Category Archives: Issues

The current issue of Medical Call Center News. (Scroll down to see past issues.)

The November 2009 Issue

Improved Patient Care Through Telehealth Nursing

Medical call centers utilizing telehealth nursing services have found it to be a cost-effective and vital method of patient care delivery.  However, nurses (and the call centers associated with them) often face legal risks when speaking to patients calling from states in which they are not licensed.  The American Academy of Ambulatory Care Nursing (AAACN) has released a position statement endorsing the Nurse Licensure Compact (NLC), which recognizes multistate nurse licensure and encourages all states and U.S. territories to introduce legislation supporting uniform adoption of the NLC.

“Uniform adoption of the Nurse Licensure Compact (NLC) would benefit ambulatory care nurses who provide care via telecommunications technology and organizations that provide telehealth nursing services.  Adoption would ultimately serve to improve patient care and safety.” -AAACN NLC Position Statement

In 1999, the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) proposed the NLC, which allows nurses from a Compact member state to have one license (in their state of residence) and practice in other Compact member states (both physically and via telecommunications technology), subject to practice laws and regulations in that state.  The Compact began on January 1, 2000, when four states passed legislation; currently, twenty-three states participate in the NLC.

According to the position statement, AAACN believes that the lack of uniform adoption of the NLC among all states and U.S. territories poses significant risks to nurses involved in interstate practice, and it also raises the question of patient abandonment if care is declined.  The statement also illustrates the benefits of being a Compact state and provides documentation in support of legislation or regulation adopting the NLC.

“The position statement is meant to provide telehealth nurses and their employers with the information necessary to encourage and support their state to join the NLC,” says AAACN President Kitty Shulman, MSN, RN,C.

For more information, contact AAACN’s national office at 800-262-6877 or aaacn@ajj.com.

The American Academy of Ambulatory Care Nursing (AAACN) is an association of registered nurses and other health care professionals who identify ambulatory care practice as essential to the continuum of high quality, cost-effective health care.  As the premier nursing organization for this specialty, AAACN is devoted to advancing the art and science of ambulatory care nursing.

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Chronically Ill Patients – The Dark Side of Hope

By Mary F. Masson

It’s not unusual for medical staff, including call center nurses, to encourage patients not give up hope.  But in surprising new research, physicians at the University of Michigan and Carnegie Mellon University have found that holding on to hope may not make patients happier. 

Holding on to hope may not make patients happier as they deal with chronic illness or diseases, according to a new study by University of Michigan Health System researchers.  “Hope is an important part of happiness,” said Peter A. Ubel, MD, director of the U-M Center for Behavioral and Decision Sciences in Medicine and one of the authors of the happily hopeless study, “but there’s a dark side of hope.  Sometimes, if hope makes people put off getting on with their life, it can get in the way of happiness.”

The results showed that people do not adapt well to situations if they are believed to be short-term.  Ubel and his coauthors – both from U-M and Carnegie Mellon University – studied patients who had new colostomies; their colons were removed and they had to have bowel movements in a pouch that lies outside their body.

At the time they received their colostomy, some patients were told that the colostomy was reversible – that they would undergo a second operation to reconnect their bowels after several months.  Others were told that the colostomy was permanent and that they would never have normal bowel function again.  The second group – the one without hope – reported being happier over the next six months than those with reversible colostomies.

“We think they were happier because they got on with their lives.  They realized the cards they were dealt, and recognized that they had no choice but to play with those cards,” says Ubel, who is also a professor in the Department of Internal Medicine.  “The other group was waiting for their colostomy to be reversed,” he continued.  “They contrasted their current life with the life they hoped to lead, and thus they didn’t make the best of their current situation.”

The research was published in this month’s edition of Health Psychology.  Ubel was joined in the research by Dylan M. Smith, PhD, a research specialist at the Ann Arbor VA Health Services Research and Development Center and a U-M psychologist; Aleksandra Jankovic, of U-M’s Center for Behavioral and Decision Sciences in Medicine; and George Loewenstein, professor in the Department of Social and Decision Sciences at Carnegie Mellon University.

Loewenstein said these results also may explain why people who lose a spouse to death often recover better emotionally over time than those who get divorced.  “If your husband or wife dies, you have closure.  There aren’t any lingering possibilities for reconciliation,” Loewenstein said.

Ubel said health professionals find it easier to deliver optimistic news to patients even when they believe the prognosis is unfavorable, justifying it by assuming that holding on to hope was better for the patient.  Said Loewenstein: “It may be easier for a doctor to deliver a hopeful message to a patient, even when there isn’t much objective reason for hope, but it may not be best for the patient.”

“Hopeful messages may not be in the best interests of the patient and may interfere with the patient’s emotional adaptation,” Ubel says.  “I don’t think we should take hope away.  But I think we have to be careful about building up people’s hope so much that they put off living their lives.”

For more information, contact Mary F. Masson at mfmasson@umich.edu or Margarita Bauza at mbauza@umich.edu, or call 734-764-2220.

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Timely Tips for Telephone Triage Nurses

While use of computerized guidelines is the standard of care in telephone triage, nurses can sometimes rely too heavily on these decision support tools and miss essential elements of a patient’s problem.  In her article in the September/October 2009 issue of AAACN ViewPoint, Carol Rutenberg notes that these tools should be used as blueprints, and that the nursing process should be used just as it is in other types of nursing.  She offers tips to adjust the nursing process for telephone triage nurses.

“During assessment, the nurse can glean key information not only from the caller’s words but also from listening to the patient’s breathing and speech,” Rutenberg said.  Callers can also provide objective measurements such as temperature, blood pressure, and weight – as well as describe lacerations and amount of bleeding.  Rutenberg writes, “A good rule of thumb is that anything nurses can do with their eyes, hands, or nose, callers can do with adequate direction from the nurse.”

During each call, the telephone triage nurse must identify a problem as emergent, urgent, or routine, develop a plan of care that the patient is likely to follow, and implement that plan.  This continuity of care is an essential part of the telephone triage nurse’s role.

Finally, to evaluate the interaction, the nurse must have a plan to determine if the patient got better.  If not, the nurse must reassess the patient, revise the plan of care, implement the new plan, and reevaluate.  Rutenberg says that doing a thorough assessment, anticipating the worst possible scenario, and erring on the side of caution are key to successful telephone triage.

Taken from Telephone Triage: Timely Tips by Carol Rutenberg, RNC-BC, MNSc, September/October 2009 AAACN ViewPoint; www.aaacn.org.

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Microsoft Health Care IT Video Series Debuts November 10

By Nicholas Kolakowski

On November 10, Microsoft introduced a new online video series, Health Tech Today.  Hosted by Bill Crounse, Microsoft’s senior director of worldwide health, the show focuses on how health and information technology intersect.

Although products such as Windows 7 and Xbox dominate most of the media’s attention, Microsoft has been working to make health care IT a pillar of its overall corporate strategy.  Microsoft’s cloud-based repository for patient information, HealthVault, is just one of its health care IT-related applications.  Released in October 2007, HealthVault is an encrypted repository where patients can store their medical information online.

In February 2008, Google debuted Google Health, its own resource for storing personal health information online, as well as sending their medical data to their doctors.  The federal government sees cloud computing as a way to help streamline the U.S. health care system.  In a keynote address at the CEA Line Shows conference in June, the nation’s first-ever chief technology officer, Aneesh Chopra, talked about the need to “bring innovation platforms” and the cloud to bear on issues such as health care IT.

“I’m fascinated by the idea that we can interconnect all sorts of things that we never connected before,” Chopra said.

Companies ranging from Intel to Oracle have also inserted themselves into the health care IT space, either through acquiring smaller start-ups or introducing their own products, demonstrating in the process that the tech sector views health care as a potentially lucrative revenue stream.

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Microsoft Launches H1N1 Response Site

By Roy Mark

On October 7, 2009, Microsoft announced a new Web site, the H1N1 Response Center, which provides users with relevant content and allows consumers to gauge symptoms and receive guidance using an H1N1 self-assessment service licensed from medical and public health experts at Emory University.

If a person decides to see a provider after taking the assessment, a prepare-for-visit tool allows him or her to compile an organized health history for providers by combining the self-assessment answers with health information stored in the user’s account in Microsoft HealthVault, a personal health application platform designed to put consumers in control of their health information.

“Any pandemic has the potential to create major disruptions in society,” David Cerino, general manager of Microsoft Health Solutions Group, said in a statement.  “Now more than ever, we are in a position to implement solutions to help people make better decisions during these outbreaks, such as social distancing, because of the technological advancements that companies like Microsoft have made over the past few years.”

The Emory University self-assessment is based on a SORT (Strategy for Off-site Rapid Triage).  The assessment reflects current public health and clinical science, vetted by a national network of experts from public health, clinical medicine, health education, and infectious disease.  It is grounded in a clinical strategy endorsed by the American College of Emergency Physicians, the leading organization for emergency medicine in the United States.

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Finally!  Patient Registration Emerges as an Online Service

Thanks to the rise in consumer health electronics and online services, the health care vision of the future is being built around the premise of patients receiving continuous health care from any location.  Gone will be the hours spent wasted in the doctor’s office; these will now be replaced by the ability to utilize convenient online patient services to streamline trips to the doctor, dentist, etc.  EMG Productions recently introduced ePatientHistory.com as a simple, effective solution for the secure digital capture of patient medical records that decreases patient wait-time and improves the quality of the health care experience.

The Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act (HITECH Act) is intended to “advance the use of health information technology” – in large part so the U.S. will be able to move to e-health records by President Obama’s 2014 deadline.  However, in spite of HITECH stimulus incentives, many medical practices have not yet acquired one key element required to implement such a transition: digital patient health data.

Now, however, ePatientHistory.com provides a simple method of digitally capturing data directly from patients completing forms in the comfort of their own home, where they have full access to all their medical records.  ePatientHistory is a much more convenient and efficient alternative to sitting in a waiting room, clipboard perched in the lap, trying to remember the dates of that last surgery.  The value of this service focuses on the convenience offered to patients, but the immediate capture of digital data will clearly enable physicians and nurses to provide more efficient health care services.  Once data is captured and securely stored, patients can rely on a higher quality of care that comes with full and accurate disclosure of their medical history prior to appointments with their health care providers.

ePatientHistory.com employs the latest technology for secure online data capture, validation, encryption, storage, and backup for 100 percent restoration in full compliance with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).  HIPAA mandates industry-wide standards for health care information during electronic processes, as well as the protection and confidential handling of protected health information.  Patients using ePatientHistory gain a level of trust imparted by the simplicity of site use and the transparency of security measures employed to protect their sensitive health data, and they perceive a higher level of care and service.

EMG Productions, Inc. is an experienced Web design/development and production studio that has offered a variety of online services to national clients for over fifteen years.  EMG specializes in creating affordable custom online services that meet the specific needs of their clients, which include rich media, data capture, product/service presentation, video production, and Web design.  You can learn more by contacting president Pamela Alford at Pamela@epatienthistory.com or visiting www.epatienthistory.com. 

The September 2009 Issue

The Pitfalls of Call Center Multitasking

By Rosanne D’Ausilio, PhD

Do you ever take several calls at once, jockeying back and forth, trying to keep each conversation separate (and remember where you left off each time)?  Or how often are you on the phone with a caller, text chatting with another, and coaching a coworker all at the same time?

“Do more with less” is the unforgiving mantra of business in the medical call center industry today.  Make more decisions and get more stuff done – with fewer people and less resources.  Is this true for you?

A growing body of scientific research shows that multitasking can actually make you less efficient.  Trying to do two or three things at once or in quick succession can take longer overall than doing them one at a time, and it may leave you with reduced brainpower to perform each task.  That is why most call centers have their agents take only one call at a time.

Research shows that multitasking increases stress, diminishes perceived control, and may cause physical discomfort such as stomachaches or headaches – not to mention shoddy work, mismanaged time, rote solutions, and forgetfulness.  Have you ever noticed that as you are working on one task, thoughts about another task (or that caller on hold) creep into your consciousness?

This doesn’t mean that we can’t do several things at the same time, but we’re kidding ourselves if we think we can do so without a cost.  The more we juggle, the less efficient we become at performing any one task.  And the longer we go before returning to an interrupted task, the harder it is to remember just where we left off.  Multitasking diminishes our productivity and makes us work harder just to feel like we are barely keeping up.

Research shows that the ability to multitask stems from a spot right behind the forehead.  That’s the anterior part of the region neuroscientists call the “executive” part of the brain – the prefrontal cortex.  When we assess tasks, prioritize them, and assign mental resources, the frontal lobes are doing most of the work.  This same region of the brain is where we pull off another uniquely human trick that is key to multitasking – “marking” the spot at which a task has been interrupted, so we can return to it later.

However, the prefrontal cortex is the most damaged as a result of prolonged stress – particularly the kind of stress that makes a person feel out of control and helpless.  The kind of stress, for example, that you might feel when you are overwhelmed by the demands of multitasking.

Such stress also will cause the death of brain cells in another region, the hippocampus, which is critical to the formation of new memories.  Damage there can hobble a person’s ability to learn and retain new facts and skills.

When a person multitasks well, without errors or disastrous results, it is usually because one or more of the tasks engaged in has become automatic.  For example, I can eat lunch and read the newspaper at the same time, because eating really involves no conscious thought.

In conclusion, just as multitasking has its drawbacks in business and personal activities, it can also be counterproductive and stress inducing in the medical call center.  Look for ways to avoid multitasking to increase your overall effectiveness and quality.

Rosanne D’Ausilio, Ph.D., an industrial psychologist and president of Human Technologies Global, Inc., which specializes in profitable call center operations in human performance management.  Over the last twenty years, she has provided needs analyses, instructional design, and customized customer service skills trainings.  Also offered is agent and facilitator university certification through Purdue University’s Center for Customer Driven Quality.

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CDC Uses Electronic Remedies to Combat Swine Flu

By Mitch Wagner

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control uses a range of Internet services, including Twitter, YouTube, and text messaging, to head off the spread of the H1N1 flu virus.  The agency will also use more traditional tools like email blasts and Web pages.  The CDC’s goal is to saturate the Internet with information about how people can protect themselves against the flu.

For example, the CDC has several Twitter feeds, with a total of 700,000 followers, for releasing health information.  Popularity of the feeds increases exponentially during flu season.

The agency is also planning to hold Webinars targeted at independent bloggers, in the hopes that they’ll help get the information out when necessary.  It targets bloggers who focus on parenting issues – aka “Mommybloggers” – as well as those who focus on health issues.

This philosophy of bringing information to places on the Internet where people are, rather than requiring people to come to CDC.gov, pervades the CDC’s electronic strategy.  The CDC is gearing up its efforts with the approach of autumn, and the flu season, and the possibility of a resurgence of the swine flu virus.

Taken from an article by Mitch Wagner that appeared in the August 24, 2009, issue of InformationWeek.com.

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Unraveling the Sleep Cycle Mystery

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Peter DeHaan, publisher and editorI have long maintained – and increasingly so – that my body does not comply with the “normal” twenty-four-hour sleep cycle.  Among the press releases I received recently is confirmation that sleep cycle deviations can occur and that one enzyme may be the central culprit.  Although I don’t fully comprehend the details, I nonetheless find it interesting:

Central Gears of the Mammalian Circadian Clock Exposed

“The circadian clock, a twenty-four-hour metabolic rhythm governing sleep cycles and other physiological processes, has long been known to play a central role in regulating the daily activities of living organisms.  Its detailed biochemical mechanisms, however, have largely remained a mystery.

“That mystery is one step closer to being unraveled with the latest discovery by a research team led by Hiroki R. Ueda of the RIKEN Center for Developmental Biology and Joseph S. Takahashi of Northwestern University, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.  Researchers analyzed 1260 pharmacologically active compounds in mouse and human clock cell lines and identified ten that exerted the greatest impact on the clock cycle.  Surprisingly, all but one were found to target a single enzyme (casein kinase I ε/δ), the inhibition of which, researchers showed, dramatically extends this cycle from twenty-four hours to more than forty-eight hours.

“That the circadian clock may be regulated by relatively simple processes involving only a handful of molecules, a possibility indicated by this result, overturns conventional thinking on the topic.  The more important finding that the inhibition process identified is insensitive to changes of as much as ten degrees Celcius further hints at a breakthrough in the related puzzle of temperature compensation: how circadian clocks maintain constant periodicity over a broad range of temperatures.

“Taken together, these findings suggest the need to fundamentally revise existing models of the mammalian circadian clock.  They also point the way toward novel approaches to treatment of sleeping disorders and other debilitating clock-related conditions.”

When human trials begin, sign me up!

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Medical Call Center News. He’s a passionate wordsmith whose goal is to change the world one word at a time.

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National Certification for Medical Interpreters – Public Call for Final Written Pilot Exam

A call for participants has been issued in the process of establishing a national certification for medical interpreters.  Building upon the work the IMIA started in the 1980s with the ultimate goal of certification, volunteers are now needed to undergo the final written exam pilot in support of national certification.

“Now that the subject matter expert review and rating of test items have been finalized, it is important that we proceed with the final pilot phase of the project,” said Dr. Nelva Lee, interpreter trainer, MITIO president, and national board member.  Individuals are invited to apply as of September 11 to participate in the pilot written certification exam.  Recruitment is being launched at the TAPIT Conference in Nashville, Tennessee.  Pilot participants will enable testing experts to test each individual test item for construct validity, relevance, and reliability.  This is an important final step for moving the process of national certification forward and protecting the interest of all stakeholders that can be impacted by certification on an ongoing basis.

“We would like to finalize the pilot phase soon, so we can keep our promise to have the exams ready for the public in 2009,” said Izabel Arocha, IMIA president.  The oral certification pilot exam pilot was finalized at the end of August, and adaptation into other languages will start soon.  Some of those who participated in the oral exam pilot have already expressed interest in taking on the written exam pilot.  Others who are supportive will be involved in different ways to advocate for the process geared to the needs of specific groups such as medical interpreters, medical providers, and educational organizations.  An unlimited number of individuals and organizations are eligible to participate in the task forces that were formed May 1 of this year and will work together to educate and advocate for the recognition of medical interpreting certification nationwide.

Visit www.certifiedmedicalinterpreters.org for more information.

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LVM Systems Opens Users’ Conference to Industry

LVM Systems invites all healthcare call centers to their 2009 conference, Essential Pieces – Supporting Your Success.  It will be held October 21-22 at the Scottsdale Plaza Resort in Arizona and offers an industry-centered agenda with three concurrent tracks: Clinical, with continuing education (CE) contact hours offered; Marketing and Strategy; and Consulting.

Headliners include Doctors Barton Schmitt and David Thompson, who will present “Ten Pediatric Infections Not to Miss” and “Dangerous Pregnancy Symptoms,” as well as be available for clinical networking sessions and an informal Q & A.

The marketing and strategy keynote speaker is Travis Froehlich, vice president of planning for the Seton Family of Hospitals in Austin, Texas.  More than twenty additional presentations will be given by call center managers and industry leaders.

For more information visit www.lvmsystems.com or call 480-633-8200. 

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Vangent and CDC Partner with Morehouse School of Medicine

Vangent, Inc., a provider of information management and strategic business process outsourcing solutions, has partnered with the Morehouse School of Medicine (MSM) in Atlanta, Georgia, to provide job opportunities for Morehouse’s second-year graduate students pursuing a Master of Public Health (MPH) degree.  Up to six students will have the opportunity to have part-time jobs supporting the CDC, responding directly to inquiries submitted by the public and healthcare professionals to CDC-INFO, CDC’s national contact center which is staffed and operated by Vangent.  CDC-INFO provides up-to-date health information round-the-clock via multiple channels.

“These students will have an excellent opportunity to gain valuable on-the-job public health training to prepare them for their professional careers,” said Mac Curtis, president and CEO of Vangent.  “They will interact with the public on a wide range of health information topics through one of the world’s most recognized sources of credible information.”

Vangent has more than five years of experience supporting CDC and the CDC-INFO program.  CDC-INFO currently responds to more than 800,000 phone and email inquiries a year on such topics as influenza, H1N1, international travel, childhood immunizations, obesity, heart disease and stroke, adolescent health, terrorism preparedness, disease outbreaks, injuries, birth defects, HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases, and environmental threats.

For more information, contact Dex Polizzi at 703-390-1543 or polizzi@merrittgrp.com, or visit www.vangent.com.

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The July 2009 Issue

How to Be Satisfied in a Dissatisfied World

By Dr. Lee Jampolsky

Do you dread going to work each day and having to face the same problems in your call center?  Do the changes you make in your job often result in only short-term fixes?  Changing jobs without addressing your thinking is like painting over rust.  It will look great for a while, but eventually the old rust will slowly break through the new paint.

There is a solution to job dissatisfaction, stress, and lack of success – a simple solution based on research and thirty years of practical application that can be accessed anytime, anywhere, and in any call center.  The solution involves attitude changes that take five seconds to apply and anyone can do.

1.  Know that how you react to a situation is up to you.  Those who are unhappy with their call centers – or the callers – often feel dissatisfaction with a situation happening outside of their control (such as downsizing or budget cuts).  But unhappiness and stress actually begin with thoughts, fears, and perceptions.  In other words, situations are completely neutral – it’s your thoughts about the situation that lead to dissatisfaction.  As long as you believe you are a helpless victim you will not see a positive and effective response to every situation.

2.  Know that fear, guilt, and worry holds everyone back.  Countless people, from call center agents to managers or directors, make unsuccessful job changes each year because they were overly worried and preoccupied about either their performance or the future of their jobs.  Decide to stop wasting valuable time and mental energy being fearful, guilty, and worried.  Instead, ask yourself, “Is my current thinking taking me where I want to go, or is it perpetuating my unhappiness?”

3.  Being a faultfinder does not create motivation for change.  With most companies and individuals, as stress increases, so does blameStress and fear feed off one another in a vicious cycle of fear that is difficult to break.  Break this cycle by recognizing that survival in your job and motivating others does not come from over-focus on what is wrong and who is to blame.  Seek to improve relationships and productivity.

4.  Making a change in the situation doesn’t always make things immediately better.  The typical way of thinking states, “If you’re unhappy in your work, change something – change jobs, change the organizational structure, find a different career.”  Instead, tell yourself, “If you are not happy with your job, learn something.”  This way there is no such thing as a “bad situation,” only “learning situations.”

Follow these simple suggestions, and you can shift from stressed-out and dissatisfied to clear, calm, and happy in your call center job – no matter what’s going on around you.

Dr. Lee Jampolsky is a psychologist and author of Walking Through Walls, Smile For No Good Reason, and Healing the Addictive Mind.  For more information, call 831-659-1478.

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You Are a Person of Influence?

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Peter DeHaan, publisher and editorMy family moved the summer before fifth grade, and I started a new school.  I quickly realized three things.  I was far ahead in math, hopelessly behind in grammar, and had been placed in the wrong class by the school secretary.  The result was that my teacher gave me special attention and esteem, while my classmates viewed me with academic awe and respect.  Although I didn’t learn much academically that year, I did undergo a metamorphous of self-perception.  Put succinctly, I began fifth grade as an above average student who felt average and ended the year as an above average student who was convinced he was exceptional.  That single attitudinal change altered the trajectory of my educational path – and ultimately my life.  Yes, Mrs. Wedel influenced me immensely.

In seventh grade, I had Mr. Snow for English.  Our class read and studied Dickens’ classic story, A Christmas Carol.  Mr. Snow helped us dig into this timeless tale and mine its many truths.  The conclusion was inescapable for me and equally profound.  Like Dickens’ Scrooge, we have a choice on how we live our life: it can be for selfish purposes, or it can be for the joy of living and the benefit of others.  I chose the latter.

In high school, it was Mr. Grosser who affected me greatly.  With a passion for molding young minds, he was part educator and part entertainer.  There was never a dull moment in his classroom, where the unexpected became routine.  He wanted us to think, profoundly and deeply.  His influence was significant and helped me mature as an individual and prepare for adulthood.

The standout mentor of my college years was Professor Britten.  Intellectual and insightful, he quietly communicated profundity with ease, effectiveness, and aplomb.  I found myself hanging on every word.  Nothing he said was wasted, and everything had significance.  He was the teacher whose class one took, not because of the subject material, but because of the instructor.

These are just a few of the teachers who influenced me.  Aside from academia, I have had many notable “teachers” in the business world as well.  Although not teachers per se, they nonetheless educated me, playing a critical role in guiding me to become the person that I am today.

Whatever your role in your call center, be encouraged that you are influencing others, even if you don’t know it.  Whether a director of operations, a manager, a shift supervisor, or a front-line call center agent, you influence those around you by what you do, the things you say, and how you treat others.  Like the infamous Scrooge, you can either influence negatively by pursuing a life of self-focused hoarding, or you can influence positively by sharing, giving, and inspiring others in an encouraging and profound manner.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Medical Call Center News. He’s a passionate wordsmith whose goal is to change the world one word at a time.

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Healthcare Reform Paper: The Case for Publicly Funded Medical Call Centers

Doctors Barton Schmitt and Andrew Hertz have recently completed a position paper regarding the role of medical call centers in health care reform.  “The impetus for the paper,” explained Schmitt, “was largely because I have not heard anyone in government mention telephone care as part of their solution.”  Medical call centers are used in many other countries and have been found to be cost-effective, yet in the U.S., only New Mexico has implemented a publicly funded call center for all of their state’s uninsured.

The position paper, titled The Case for Publicly Funded Medical Call Centers, offers as a premise that, “every citizen should have the right to reach a telephone care nurse at any hour day or night for assistance with illnesses, injuries or other acute medical problems.”  Its content describes the primary functions of today’s medical call centers, an overview of their outcomes, evidence of their ability to reduce healthcare costs and recommendations for making these centers a critical part of universal access to health care.

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Cosmopolitan Medical Communications Recognized

Cosmopolitan Medical Communications has been named a winner of the 2009 Alfred P. Sloan Award for Business Excellence in Workplace Flexibility, distinguishing the employer as a leading practitioner of workplace flexibility and effectiveness in Arizona, and across the nation.  Cosmopolitan was recognized at a breakfast held by the Chandler Chamber of Commerce on June 11, 2009.

The Alfred P. Sloan Awards for Business Excellence in Workplace Flexibility are part of the When Work Works project, an ongoing initiative of Families and Work Institute, the Institute for a Competitive Workforce (an affiliate of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce), and the Twiga Foundation.  The Alfred P. Sloan Awards for Business Excellence in Workplace Flexibility recognize organizations that are striving to find new ways to make workwork” in today’s challenging economy.  The awards honor organizations of all sizes and all types across the country that are using workplace flexibility as a strategy to increase workplace effectiveness and yield positive business results, and to help employees succeed at work and at home.

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Amcom Releases Enhanced Smart Console

Amcom Software, Inc., released its enhanced Smart Console call center software.  Highlights in the latest version include:

  • Enhanced user interface improves both look and feel and ease of use.
  • Enhanced operator efficiency and communication tools allow faster phone number editing, on-call scheduling from the console, faster global search, and team chat capabilities.
  • Expanded platform capability and support allow integration with new telephony devices and the ability to run on Microsoft Vista.  Also, in the event of a network outage, communications can be maintained using a local copy of Smart Console.
  • Timesaving administration and improved configuration: Software updates will be tested on a single PC and then automatically distributed to all PCs, ensuring that everyone has the latest software.

“Organizations that rely on our call center software every day as well as those considering this type of solution will see tremendous benefit in the ease of use and solid functionality this latest version provides,” said Chris Heim, CEO, Amcom Software.  “Our development team was able to incorporate customer feedback into their process and truly appreciate the time our customers took to provide their candid input.”

For more information, call 800-852-8935 or visit www.amcomsoftware.com.

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PSA: To Test or Not to Test?

One of the most controversial issues in men’s health is whether men should routinely have a blood test for prostate-specific antigen (PSA) to screen for prostate cancer.  Some experts argue that PSA testing saves lives by helping detect this common form of cancer early.  Others say it triggers unnecessary treatment that disrupts many more lives than it saves.  The results of two studies released this spring focused the debate, but scientists are still a long way from concluding the discussion, reports the July 2009 issue of Harvard Men’s Health Watch.

Our society has been encouraged to value early cancer diagnosis, but not all cancers are alike.  Detecting prostate cancer early is not nearly as important as detecting lung cancer or colon cancer early, because many prostate cancers grow very slowly and don’t threaten health.  Spotting prostate cancer early usually leads to treatment, but current treatments can cause life-changing side effects such as incontinence and erectile dysfunction.  The crux of the controversy is whether screening for prostate cancer using the PSA test does more harm than good.  That’s the question the new studies – one done in the United States, the other in Europe – were designed to answer.

Half of the volunteers in both studies were randomly assigned to have PSA tests, while the other half simply received their usual medical care.  In the studies, men with high PSA levels underwent prostate biopsies to look for cancer.  The American study found that after seven to ten years, PSA screening increased the diagnosis of prostate cancer, but it did not improve survival.  After nine years, the European study found that men who had been screened were less likely to have died of prostate cancer, but at a substantial cost of over-diagnosis and over-treatment.

PSA testing remains a personal decision.  However, the Harvard Men’s Health Watch notes that with the latest results things have changed.  Before these studies, skeptics said there was no evidence that PSA screening saves lives.  These studies now support that view.  Until now, if a man could not decide whether he should have his PSA checked, the default recommendation was in favor of testing.  These studies suggest the opposite strategy might be better – that unless a man has a particular reason to request a test, the default should be to skip it.

Harvard Men’s Health Watch is available from Harvard Health Publications, the publishing division of Harvard Medical School; subscribe at www.health.harvard.edu or call 877-649-9457.

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Florida Hospital – Adventist Health Systems’s Call Center Awarded

The “Best Practices Award” was recently given to Florida Hospital – Adventist Health Systems by Noble Systems Corporation.  The award was announced at the SNUG 2009 Conference – a gathering of the Select Noble Users Group – held in Atlanta, Georgia.

The “Best Practices Award” recognizes Florida Hospital – Adventist Health Systems for its use of technology and best practices to build a unified call center environment for its organization.  The hospital has combined services for its customer service, collections, and patient preregistration teams into a single call center, serving over one million patients per year.

The hospital blends inbound and outbound calls, with integrated IVR and text-to-speech tools and digital recording of calls.  The hospital’s preregistration programs have reduced wait times by fifteen to thirty minutes per patient and increased patient pre-payments.  The collections team uses “virtual agents” to leave automated messages with personalized information, which helps reach more patients and increase collections.  Automated surveys show an improvement in customer satisfaction.

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The May 2009 Issue

Make Your Medical Call Center a Strategic Weapon

By Jim Rembach

For many organizations, the call center is the most important component in relationship management.  Yet very few recognize and leverage this fact.  For most, sales marketing gets all of the credit and attention while the call center is largely ignored.  Sound familiar?  We have all heard the customer relationship quote, “It costs x times more to obtain a new customer than to retain an existing one.”  So why does sales and marketing get the gold mine and the call center gets the shaft?

Most organizations do not calculate lost revenues from relationship failure.  Beyond the difficulty in accurately determining the figures, the fact remains that no one in the organization wants to take ownership of losing revenue for the company.  It is easier to spend time pointing fingers.  Remember, though, a great deal of research has established that lost revenue is the revenue that would actually require the least amount of investment to retain.

So where else can customer retention efforts tap into the gold mine?  No need for a hint – it’s the call center.  All improvement efforts in the call center should ultimately lead to providing better service and result in relationship enhancement for valuable and potentially valuable customers.  The call center can be a loyalty-generation department.  Call center leaders must learn how to assimilate the vision of being “the center of retention” into the mission.  Unlike other mining activities, this is not an activity that rapes and pillages, but one that enhances a renewable resource.

Some may protest and say that patients and customers leave or reduce spending for numerous reasons that are beyond the control of the call center.  I agree.  It may be product-related or service-related.  It may be cost-related or policy-related.  But, these are all guesses, educated hypotheses, at best.  The call center is where customer intelligence can be obtained to prove or disprove such hypotheses.  The choice is simple: focus on retaining revenue and relationships, or focus on antiquated productivity measures.  One leads to the gold mine, and the other leads to frustration.

Every hospital and medical call center has the potential to protect revenue, regardless of whether or not the call center is focused on “sales” activities.  This protected revenue allows your organization to better realize its market share goals.  The call center is your most strategic weapon in converting lost revenue to retained revenue and getting existing patients and customers to become advocates for your hospital or medical facility.

For more information, contact Jim Rembach of Customer Relationship Metrics at 877-550-0223 or jim.rembach@metrics.net.

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Increase Employee Retention by Giving Them a Dose of Nurses’ Medicine

By LeAnn Thieman

With increased workloads, demanding staff ratios, and challenging work conditions, many employees in the health care industry are feeling burned out.  Today’s workers are not signing on and staying on just for the money.  They are opting for employers who care about them – professionally and personally.  How they are treated on the job is a primary factor in their satisfaction, their resistance to burnout, and their willingness to be long-term loyal employees.  Work-life balance is often a top priority.

Considering that it costs thousands of dollars to recruit and hire a new employee, organizations are eager to retain the ones they have in addition to attracting the emerging workforce.  Many have learned that in order to recruit and retain they cannot simply offer more money or bigger benefits.  They need to give employees a hefty dose of what I call “nurses’ medicine.”

1) Smile a lot.  Be kind.  Visit often.
2) Ask, “How can I help you?”
3) Do an assessment on a regular basis.
4) Be prompt in answering their “call lights.”
5) Explain all procedures and changes.
6) Communicate often and clearly.
7) Ease their pain.
8) Promote independence and self-sufficiency.
9) Change positions.
10) Provide them with nourishment.

Implementing this kind of medicine creates a “care plan” that does not coddle employees; instead, it strengthens and empowers them.  This transfers to their work, promoting a positive company culture and increasing productivity.  It develops creativity, inspires loyalty, and leads to a healthy bottom line.

Giving employees a dose of the same medicine nurses give their patients results in greater retention.  With a little TLC, everybody wins.

LeAnn Thieman, LPN, CSP, is an expert in health care recruitment and retention.  For more information about her books, seminars, or speaking engagements, call 877-844-3626.

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The Real Question About the Economic Crisis

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Peter DeHaan, publisher and editorAt the World Economic Forum, Jim Wallis suggested that wondering when the global economic crisis would be over is the wrong question to ask – even though it is the one foremost on our minds.

He posited that the real query should be, “How will this crisis change us?”  After all, if we don’t learn from our mistakes, we are doomed to repeat them.  Drawing parallels between the years preceding the Great Depression and the past few, he offered that we have indeed repeated history.  Here then is how I suggest we must change:

  • Learn to be happy with less.  Virtually everyone in the US is better off than half of the world’s population.
  • Don’t spend what you don’t have.  Satisfying today’s urges with tomorrow’s income is courting disaster.
  • Plan for the future.  That includes having an emergency fund and a retirement plan.
  • Whenever possible, avoid debt.  When that is not possible, pay off debt as quickly as possible.
  • Charge cards are intended to be a convenience when making purchases, not a means to buy when you have no money.  The first month that the balance can’t be paid in full is an indication of living beyond your means – cancel the card and don’t apply for any more.
  • Shun greed.

In essence, greed got us here in the first place.  I hear a chorus of readers concurring, “Yes, corporate greed caused this mess to happen.”  Wait a minute; let’s not blame corporations.  Although corporations are legal entities, they cannot think and act on their own accord.  Individuals control corporations, and many of them are greedy.  The stockholders who own stock in the corporations seek higher returns on their investments; they are sometimes greedy.  The people with 401ks, IRAs, money market accounts, CDs, and any interest bearing investment want to make as much as they can; they are partly to blame as well.  On and on it goes.  Virtually everyone, in one way or another, is culpable for the mess we are in – we have an insatiable desire for more.

As my first bullet point suggests, let’s instead seek to be happier with a bit less.  And we’ll all be better off.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Medical Call Center News. He’s a passionate wordsmith whose goal is to change the world one word at a time.

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SDC Solutions Acquired by Amcom Software

Amcom Software has acquired SDC Solutions, Inc., of Manchester, New Hampshire.  The combined companies further strengthen Amcom’s position in the market for call center and emergency management software, increasing their customer base and expanding customer solutions.

SDC Solutions’ products handle critical communications for health care, hospitality, higher education, government, and corporate organizations in the United States.  Said Amcom CEO Chris Heim, “SDC Solutions has earned a strong presence in the same markets we already serve and excels at providing solutions in the small to mid-sized market.  We’re impressed with SDC Solutions’ well-regarded software and anticipate remarkable demand for these products from Amcom customers, as well as the market in general.  SDC Solutions enjoys the loyalty of some of the country’s finest organizations, and those customers can rest assured that we intend to continue serving their needs as our number one priority.”

This acquisition comes at a time when demand is increasing for mission-critical communications solutions in the health care and hospitality markets.

For more information, call 800-852-8935.

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Rein In Runaway Health Care Costs

Economists agree that American health care reform will falter unless health care spending is brought under control.  The editors of the Harvard Health Letter, in consultation with the doctors on its editorial board, propose ways you can help curb health care costs:

Develop a good relationship with a primary care physician.  A primary care doctor knows you, your medical history, and your circumstances.

Don’t use the emergency department unless absolutely necessary.  Call your doctor and try to get some advice over the phone or in person.

Stick with the program. Take prescribed medications, get regular checkups, and adhere to lifestyle changes.

Check with your primary care doctor before going to a specialist. Let your primary care physician coordinate your care.

Go generic. Generic drugs cost less; check with your doctor.

Fight inertia. If you’re taking a medication, discuss with your physician how long you’ve been taking it, whether it’s working, and, if it isn’t, not taking it anymore.

Question the need for expensive tests. Don’t push to get new, expensive tests; if your doctor orders them, ask why they’re necessary.

Stay healthy. Quit smoking, eat right, exercise, and get enough sleep.

The Harvard Health Letter is available from Harvard Health Publications, the publishing division of Harvard Medical School, for $29 per year.  Subscribe at www.health.harvard.edu/health or by calling 877-649-9457.

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DIA Launches Online Career Center

The Drug Information Association (DIA), a global, multidisciplinary association of professionals involved in the life cycle management of biopharmaceuticals, launched its new online career center, a highly targeted resource for online employment connections.

The DIA Career Center allows employers to post jobs online, search for qualified candidates based on specific job criteria, create an online resume agent to email qualified candidates daily, and receive job activity statistics.

The DIA Career Center is a free service for job seekers who have access to employers and jobs in the biopharmaceutical industry.  In addition to posting their resumes, job seekers can browse and view available jobs based on their criteria, save those jobs for later review, and create a search agent to provide email notifications of jobs that match their criteria.

Job seekers and employers also have access to the National Healthcare Career Network, a group of more sixty top health care associations and professional organizations, including the American Hospital Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the Association of American Medical Colleges.  DIA’s alliance with NHCN increases employers’ reach to over 7,000 resumes and job seekers’ access to over 1,500 job postings.

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New Service Launched to Pharmaceutical Industry

Alliance Healthcare Information and Ashfield Healthcare recently launched an integrated marketing service, Physician Reach.  Using a tailored approach, Physician Reach allows pharmaceutical companies to make use of a number of channels and adapt message delivery to the needs of individual physicians, practices, and health care professionals.

Physician Reach uses contract sales professionals, concierge services for physicians and their patients, field and office-based nursing services, e-detailing, and tele-detailing.  It also provides database management and fulfilment services.

Alan Horgan, chief executive officer of Ashfield Healthcare LLC, says, “Both companies are part of the contract sales and marketing services division of United Drug PLC, so using shared skills and resources means that we can provide a competitive service to our customers and reduce complexity at the same time.”

 

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