Category Archives: Peter DeHaan’s Columns

Articles by Medical Call Center News publisher and editor Peter Lyle DeHaan

The Weak Link of Medical Call Centers

Advances in Agent Performance Can’t Overcome Deficiencies in Backend Systems

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, Ph.D.

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan-call center

Whenever I place a phone call to a business, I carefully observe what happens. After spending most of my adult life in some aspect of the call center industry, I can’t help it.

Based on my observations, I’m happy to say that I’m encouraged by the quality of the agents I interact with. They are more personal and professional than agents who used to answer the phone even a few years ago. They have a positive, can-do attitude. Most of the time, I enjoy talking with them.

Unfortunately, quality agents don’t automatically make for satisfying phone calls. The technology that’s supposed to help them do their job better continues to hamper their work. Based on my experience, this is most pronounced in the healthcare industry. Other industries appear to be dealing with this frontend/backend disconnect with varying degrees of success, yet healthcare—for all its technology—still struggles to produce satisfying outcomes for their patient callers.

I wish I could say this article is the result of one bad experience. Unfortunately that’s not the case. This is a result of several bad experiences. It’s a saga of multiple calls without resolution. At this point I’m prepared to never experience a satisfactory outcome. In case you’re wondering, it’s a billing snafu.

Part of it hinges on faxes sent multiple times but never received—or at least never connected with my account. In the day of digital communications and electronic health records, why are we still using faxes anyway?

In case you’re interested, faxing started in the mid-1840s, only a decade or so after the telegraph. Yet we’re still using fax technology today. (Thankfully we’re not using the telegraph. Can you imagine looking to hire agents who know Morse Code?)

Anyway, how can agents do their job with excellence when they’re using technology that’s over 170 years old? While other technological hurdles agents face aren’t as old, these obstacles still present a cumbersome challenge and thwart attempts at customer service.

Today’s call center technology can integrate incoming channels, but in the healthcare industry it’s still challenging to integrate the various information silos with any degree of success.

Let’s applaud our call center agents for the job they do, despite technological roadblocks. Then let’s work at fixing backend system integrations so agents can do the job they want to do and serve patient callers the way they expect—and to do it on one phone call. It’s first call resolution (FCR), and it’s time for the healthcare industry to embrace it.

Imagine what your healthcare call center traffic would look like if you could achieve first call resolution on every call. It would change everything.

Peter Lyle DeHaan is the publisher and editor of Medical Call Center News and AnswerStat.

Is It Time to Start a Medical Answering Service?

Begin Your Investigation with a Little Research

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, Ph.D.

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

When I worked as a call center consultant (before moving full-time into publishing and writing) I advised hospital communication centers, healthcare call centers, and medical answering services. One hospital asked me to investigate the feasibility of them starting a medical answering service. Their doctors begged them to do so, and there was only one local provider that no one seemed to like.

I talked with some of the advocates of a hospital-based answering service and did a bit of investigation into the local provider. The initiative looked promising, and I ran the numbers. The hospital decided to move forward. But before they scheduled me to help them start their answering service, my contact abruptly retired and a change in management decided to pause the project. Next quarter they assured me, which became next year. They never did have me return.

I don’t know if they started their answering service or not, but I do know that what I would’ve charged them thousands of dollars for is now condensed in my new book How to Start a Telephone Answering Service, which came out in January.

If your hospital or healthcare organization is considering starting a medical answering service, you can hire an industry consultant to guide you or you can save a lot of money and buy my book.

And even if hiring a consultant is the way you want to go, start with my book as a primer. It’s available in paperback and Kindle and carries a 4.8-star rating.

Learn more at www.startanansweringservice.com.

Peter Lyle DeHaan is the publisher and editor of Medical Call Center News and AnswerStat.

What Message Does your Call Center Send?

Is Saying “Your Call Is Important to Us” Rhetoric or Reality?

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, Ph.D.

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

Whenever I call a company, I pay close attention to what happens. You probably do too. I look for specific details that thrill me. I also look for areas that need improvement. And I especially note my overall reaction to the call. Did they delight me, treat me with respect, and leave me with a satisfied feeling? Or did I feel frustrated over their indifferent attitude, poor response, and haste to move on to the next call?

If I’m delighted, I look forward to my next call. If I’m frustrated, I don’t want to call again and will do anything to avoid it. Today’s results foretell future interaction.

call center

Every call center says, “your call is important to us,” but sometimes they don’t act like it. As agents breathlessly rush from one call to the next, they send the opposite message, that my call is an eruption to them and causes irritation.

In the healthcare industry, call centers rise in importance as a key means to serve patients and enhance their overall level of care. While the call center can’t replace in-person interaction with a trained healthcare professional, a good call center can certainly supplement it and serve as an invaluable resource to advance the overall level of care.

This, of course, depends on the call center agent delighting the caller, of giving focused, unhurried attention. They must fully and professionally address the reason for the call. However, a medical call center that leaves patients feeling frustrated, hampers the overall provision of quality care and lessens the chance of the patient calling back the next time they have a need.

In your medical call center make sure the phrase, “Your call is important to us,” is more than a slogan or a hollow promise. Make sure you show each caller just how important they are by how you treat them and how you serve them. That’s the message your call center wants to send on every call. That’s the way to make your operation be an indispensable part of the overall provision of healthcare in your community.

Peter Lyle DeHaan is the publisher and editor of Medical Call Center News and AnswerStat.

Will You Help Us Get the Word Out About Medical Call Center News?

Please Tell Your Team, Coworkers, and Colleagues About Medical Call Center News

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, Ph.D.

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

Medical Call Center News has a loyal group of subscribers. You appreciate our content and read most every issue. But our subscriber list also changes a bit from one issue to the next, with a 2.3 percent churn rate. Some people retire or move to other jobs, while new people join the industry or discover our publication. This is a constant reminder that the healthcare industry is undergoing constant change, perhaps more than any other industry.

Given these changes, our overall subscriber numbers stay fairly constant, but we’d like more people to receive Medical Call Center News. Will you do me a favor and help us get the word out?

Please take a few moments and think of team members, coworkers, and industry colleagues who might not be receiving Medical Call Center News. Will you please send them a quick email and ask them to check us out and subscribe?

As you may recall, subscribing to Medical Call Center News is a quick and easy process. We request four pieces of basic information and only require two: your email address and first name. To do things properly, it’s a double opt-in process, so once you submit your subscription information, you’ll receive a confirmation email. Just click on “confirm” and your good to go. It’s that easy.

And don’t worry. We won’t share your name or email with anyone or spam you. You may unsubscribe at any time, but if we do our job right, I don’t think you will.

That’s my request. Now it’s your turn. Please let your call center team, coworkers, and colleagues know about Medical Call Center News.

Thank you!

Peter Lyle DeHaan is the publisher and editor of Medical Call Center News and AnswerStat.

Do You React to Today or Plan for Tomorrow?

How We Handle Each Day Prepares Us for the Next One

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, Ph.D.

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

In the medical answering service and call center industry, there’s always more than enough to do to fill each day. Between staffing issues, client or caller crises, and technical problems there’s not enough hours to attend to them all. Given this pressure from the present, how can we ever prepare for the future?

Here are some thoughts about how to handle the workload at your medical call center.

Put Out Fires

The default mode of operation at most answering services and call centers is putting out fires. A problem arises, and we react. Sometimes more than one issue shows up at the same time. Then we triage them and handle the most pressing one first, hoping we can get to the next one before it’s too late. We do this from day to day, week to week, and month to month. It’s all too easy for this management approach to continue year after year. There must be a better way.

plan
Be Strategic

Wouldn’t it be better to control the day instead of letting the day control us? To do this, we need to plan. We must be strategic. This means we schedule our day, our week, and our month. We know what we will do each hour, and we don’t let anything distract us from it.

Seek Balance

Of course, having a rigid plan is idealistic. Though this strategic approach deals with what’s most important, it ignores the unexpected urgent things that are bound to come up. If all we do is prepare for tomorrow, who will take care of today? That’s where balance comes in. We need to balance putting out fires to being strategic, with reacting to being proactive.

To do this, make part of each day strategic and then allow the rest for reacting to the urgent matters that will crop up. This works best by blocking out an hour or two each day where interruptions are not allowed. I prefer first thing in the morning. Spend this time working on projects that will make your call center better. Focus on doing things today that will reduce the fires to put out tomorrow.

This is hard to do it first, but each time we’re successful it brings us one step closer to running our call center better and to do it with less stress. Are you ready to begin?

Peter Lyle DeHaan is the publisher and editor of Medical Call Center News and AnswerStat.

The Work-At-Home Option for Medical Call Centers

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, Ph.D.

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

Some healthcare call centers embrace the work-at-home option, while others are categorically against it. Let’s explore the pros and cons of using home-based agents, along with the potential risks of embracing or dismissing this option.

Benefits of Home-Based Agents

There are two primary reasons to use home-based agents to staff your medical call center. The main reason is to tap into a larger labor pool of qualified employees. This is especially critical given the nationwide shrinkage of credentialed healthcare workers.

A secondary reason is the potential to attract lower-cost personnel. This is because they live in areas with a lower cost of living. Though reducing labor costs should never be the driving force in pursuing work-at-home staff, it may be an exciting side benefit.

Concerns About Home-Based Agents

Opponents to hiring work at home staff site management challenges and HIPAA concerns. This is certainly understandable. Employees who are physically present are easier to oversee. When they work from home, who knows what they’re doing?

However, keep in mind that in the healthcare industry, on-site call center workers receive more scrutiny than most and are the easiest to manage. Whereas, off-site call center workers have a level of supervision comparable to most other healthcare workers.

The Risk of Using Home-Based Agents

This concern over management brings up the risk of hiring work-at-home staff for your call center. Call center managers fear a HIPAA breach and PHI being abused and misappropriated. The key, however, is not location but employee ethics. An unethical employee is just as likely to misuse PHI on-site as off-site. It’s just that they must work harder to access and misuse information if they’re on-site. By the same logic, an ethical employee will treat PHI appropriately whether on-site or off-site. The fear over hiring off-site call center staff is understandable, but hiring the right staff negates this concern.

The Risk of Not Using Home-Based Agents

The chief risk of not using work-at-home agents is the risk of not being able to fully staff your call center. That’s a disservice to callers and causes your existing staff to work even harder, which may result in burnout and resignations. Tapping home-based agents is a smart way to avoid this from happening.

When determining if work-at-home agents are the right solution for your call center, look at the pros and cons. Then factor in the risks. That will guide you to the right decision.

Peter Lyle DeHaan is the publisher and editor of Medical Call Center News and AnswerStat.