Healthcare Call Center Work Can Be Hard

Don’t Focus on the Angry Masses but Grab onto a Good Call Whenever Possible

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, Ph.D.

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

Working in a call center is challenging. Although it’s been a long time since I answered calls in one, I’m still aware of how hard it is. That’s because I’m now on the other end of the phone, such as for dealing with healthcare related issues.

In truth, I try to minimize my interaction with healthcare personnel, in large part because of the hassle that occurs once the appointment ends. I spend much more time trying to get the bill paid then I spent talking to the healthcare professional in the first place.

Attempting to get my provider to work with my payor is challenging at best, and a futile endeavor at worse. Neither party will talk to each other, which means me talking to them separately. This requires me phoning their respective call centers. Then I ping-pong back and forth, working hard to reach a resolution but making little progress. Too often I get a slightly different response each time I call. 

Currently, I have two outstanding medical invoices, which I’ve been working on for several months. It would be far simpler to ignore the negotiated fees and pay the billed amount in full, but because I must have insurance, I might as well try to use it. Right?

A recent call to my provider quickly escalated into a confrontation, with them threatening to turn me over to collections and me begging them to allow me to pay the negotiated fee as payment in full. They would have none of it. I may have raised my voice. I may have said some things I’m not proud of.

I hung up with equal parts remorse and frustration.

Three days later I called back for another round. I had new information. I knew I’d reach a different rep because they’re a large organization, and I’ve never talked to the same person twice.

Guess who answered the phone? Yep, the same person I failed to treat with respect on my prior call. I groaned to myself. I sucked in a lungful of courage and opened my mouth. “Hi! I talked with you a few days ago and wasn’t very nice. I’m sorry.”

She didn’t know what to say. Truly, she was speechless. After a silence long enough to make me wonder if I should apologize some more, she meekly said “Um . . . thank you.”

Although we had a civil conversation this time, I got no closer to getting my bill paid. I guess it’s time for another round of calls.

Call center work is hard, especially when callers don’t want to hear the information agents have to tell them. Difficult calls are common, so healthcare call center reps must take a small win whenever they can. If they hold onto it, it might help them weather the plethora of angry callers that are bound to follow.

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

The July 2019 Issue



Healthcare Call Center Work Can Be Hard

Don’t Focus on the Angry Masses but Grab onto a Good Call Whenever Possible

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, Ph.D.

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan-call center

Working in a call center is challenging. Although it’s been a long time since I answered calls in one, I’m still aware of how hard it is. That’s because I’m now on the other end of the phone, such as for dealing with healthcare related issues.

In truth, I try to minimize my interaction with healthcare personnel, in large part because of the hassle that occurs once the appointment ends. I spend much more time trying to get the bill paid then I spent talking to the healthcare professional in the first place.

Attempting to get my provider to work with my payor is challenging at best, and a futile endeavor at worse. Neither party will talk to each other, which means me talking to them separately. This requires me phoning their respective call centers. Then I ping-pong back and forth, working hard to reach a resolution but making little progress. Too often I get a slightly different response each time I call. 

Currently, I have two outstanding medical invoices, which I’ve been working on for several months. It would be far simpler to ignore the negotiated fees and pay the billed amount in full, but because I must have insurance, I might as well try to use it. Right?

A recent call to my provider quickly escalated into a confrontation, with them threatening to turn me over to collections and me begging them to allow me to pay the negotiated fee as payment in full. They would have none of it. I may have raised my voice. I may have said some things I’m not proud of.

I hung up with equal parts remorse and frustration.

Three days later I called back for another round. I had new information. I knew I’d reach a different rep because they’re a large organization, and I’ve never talked to the same person twice.

Guess who answered the phone? Yep, the same person I failed to treat with respect on my prior call. I groaned to myself. I sucked in a lungful of courage and opened my mouth. “Hi! I talked with you a few days ago and wasn’t very nice. I’m sorry.”

She didn’t know what to say. Truly, she was speechless. After a silence long enough to make me wonder if I should apologize some more, she meekly said “Um . . . thank you.”

Although we had a civil conversation this time, I got no closer to getting my bill paid. I guess it’s time for another round of calls.

Call center work is hard, especially when callers don’t want to hear the information agents have to tell them. Difficult calls are common, so healthcare call center reps must take a small win whenever they can. If they hold onto it, it might help them weather the plethora of angry callers that are bound to follow.

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


Featured Sponsor: LVM Systems

LVM Systems: Helping Healthcare Call Centers Help Patients

LVM Systems develops and markets software and related internet products exclusively for the healthcare call center industry. Their primary niche is solutions that support nurse triage, disease management, patient transfer, and referral/marketing services, including consumer-centered internet products.

They have proudly served this market for 30 years, with hundreds of healthcare organizations as clients. The company’s cornerstones are comprehensive software, outstanding customer support, and proven clinical content supported by Drs. Barton Schmitt and David Thompson. The LVM team also provides implementation services, on-site training, phone and remote-access support, network consultation, user conferences, customization of screens, and custom reports. Contact LVM Systems at 480-633-8200.


Bridging the Access Gap

By Tom Cox

For many patients, finding the right physician and booking an appointment isn’t consumer friendly. Unfortunately, the process isn’t much easier on the other end, either. Even the best call center agents struggle trying to field hundreds of calls a day and book appointments in a timely manner. They use multiple systems with disjointed information, or worse, they flip through binders trying to find the appropriate provider for the patient. These procedural flaws bring pain to everyone involved, but the fall-out is patients getting frustrated with the difficulty and disengaging—often never receiving the care they need.

But there is hope. New digital care coordination solutions enable call centers to bridge the access gap with automated business rules, guided search, and real-time scheduling in a single platform.

Getting There Faster with Guided Search: Before digital care coordination, patients had no other option but to schedule a doctor appointment by phone. Many of these calls—especially for larger healthcare organizations—went to call centers where agents fielded the calls and scheduled the appointment. In other cases, with no centralized call center, the providers’ office staff took the calls among their other duties. 

Underneath what may seem like a simple task of scheduling over the phone lies a much more complex process: searching through binders of scheduling protocols and then flipping between different customer relationship management (CRM), electronic medical record (EMR), and practice management (PM) systems, all while the patient remains on the line. Phone calls could take up to twenty minutes while agents manually sifted through pages of information or put the patient on hold to verify insurance and other scheduling details.

Now, guided search, provided by digital care coordination, automates all scheduling protocols. This enables call center agents to find the right physician quickly and then schedule an appointment. Call center agents ask patients a set of qualifying questions, and the platform uses those responses to match patients to the best fit provider based on their care need. Once identifying a provider, call center agents have a real-time view of the provider’s schedule, allowing them to book an appointment on that call. What once was a manual, time-consuming process is now completed in a few minutes.

Guided search is particularly useful for health systems and other provider organizations tasked with navigating the complex and complicated world of specialty care. Scheduling protocols are more particular for specialists. The dangers of scheduling the wrong specialist risks care delays, consequential outcomes, and wasted time for both patient and provider. 

Making It Better with Analytics: The other critical factor is the availability of real-time analytics. While guided search is important for connecting patients to the right care, ongoing, accurate, and easily dissectible analysis of the process is necessary for straightening out any kinks and maximizing system efficiency. 

Rather than manually generating a report that is just a snapshot in time, a platform with built-in real-time analytics capabilities can make that information—and more—available at any time. Analytics can point to trends, averages, and benchmarks useful for optimizing the appointment scheduling process. 

Customized reports can track items such as provider utilization, pinpointing any bottlenecks in the scheduling process and highlighting areas to preserve time and resources. 

Faster, Easier Access to Care: Bridging the access gap is more than improving the scheduling process. Organizations should also consider the elements behind scheduling that prevent patients from getting the care they need in a timely manner. In most cases, there are two factors: the ability to identify the right doctor for a specific care need, and the ability to track scheduling and referral patterns, identifying areas for improvement. 

Tom Cox is the CEO of MyHealthDirect, a leading provider of digital care coordination solutions.


Healthcare Call Center News

Call 4 Health CEO Joe Pores Receives Excalibur Award

The Sun Sentinel honored six business leaders with its annual Excalibur Award, including Call 4 Health’s CEO Joe Pores. The Excalibur Awards recognize outstanding contributions to their organizations and communities. 

Awarded May 7, 2019, the Excalibur Awards honor business leaders in South Florida for 2018. The awards recognize business achievement and civic contributions each year, starting in 1978. The winners for this esteemed business leader of the year award were selected by a panel of the Sun Sentinel Media Group and nominations from the public.

Call 4 Health employs 300 people in Delray Beach, with offices near Baltimore and Nashville, where it employs 200 more. The company, which handles 1.5 million calls each month, generates more than $20 million in annual revenues, with an annual 25 percent growth rate.

Formed in 1997 as a medical answering service, the company expanded over the years from answering doctor office’s calls to offering advanced healthcare services including patient registration and appointment services for healthcare systems, hospitals, and hospice organizations. Additionally, some hospitals outsource their internal switchboard function to Call 4 Health


A Thought for Today

“Experience makes us see an enormous difference between piety and goodness.” -Blaise Pascal

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.

The May 2019 Issue



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

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.


Featured Sponsor: Call 4 Health

Call4Health

Call 4 Health is a leading medical call center with a genuine understanding of the patient’s perspective. Delivering compassionate commitment with quality medical solutions to their clients since 1997, Call 4 Health has a keen understanding of what it is like to face trauma and has developed a sound system to seamlessly balance professionalism with compassion.

Their call representatives understand the difficulties in facing traumas and coping with treatments as well as the emotional and financial strains those challenges present. With an altruistic approach, they place patients and their families first. Compassion is more than just a word at Call 4 Health, it drives them. Customer service excellence is not something they just “talk about.” They deliver it every day. For more information, visit www.call4health.com or call 855-244-3258.


The Golden Rules of Telephone Triage

By Rose Moon, RN, BSN

Successful triage nurses live by the following golden rules of the telephone triage process:

  1. Every call is life threatening until proven otherwise.
  2. Complete an ABCD assessment with every telephone encounter: Airway, Breathing, Circulation, Deficit (Neuro).
  3. Assessing patients over the phone is high risk; therefore, take the callers word as truth.
  4. Follow your sixth sense: protocols are decision support tools; nursing judgment determines outcomes.
  5. Know your patients’ medical history and current medications.
  6. Assess your callers as well as your patients. Be a patient advocate.
  7. Never provide a dosage of a medication without a complete patient assessment.
  8. Always confirm labeled dosage of a medication as well as the means in which the caretaker plans to administer the drug.
  9. Always assess the caller’s level of comfort with the established plan of care before ending the call.
  10. “Are you comfortable with these recommendations?”
  11. “Now tell me what you plan to do next.”
  12. If it is not documented, it didn’t happen. Use defensive documentation. Paint a picture.
  13. Regardless of the reason for the call, always obtain a rectal temperature on an infant under the age of three months.
  14. Document the exact mechanism of injury.
  15. Be alert for red flags. Any time a caller uses or implies one of the following phrases be sure to clarify the underlying meaning. Carefully analyze your disposition and recommendation for follow-up care:
  16. Grunting or moaning
  17. Lethargic or listless
  18. Sleeping more than usual
  19. Just doesn’t look right, act right, or is fussy
  20. Sleeps through a rectal temperature
  21. High pitched cry or unusual, funny cry
  22. History of sickle cell or immune deficiency
  23. Frequent caller
  24. Caller that expresses anxiousness or numerous questions after discussing a plan of care
  25. Patient symptoms of headache, dizziness, disorientation, nausea, fatigue, or irritability; flu versus carbon monoxide exposure
  26. At the conclusion of the patient telephone encounter, instruct callers to call back or seek medical evaluation if current symptoms become worse or additional signs and symptoms of concern develop.

Learn more about telephone nurse triage and how to implement successful triage nurse centers by downloading the free e-book: Telephone Nurse Triage Handbook.


Healthcare Call Center News

Email us your news for the next issue.


A Thought for Today

A timid question will always receive a confident answer. -Charles John Darling

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.

The March 2019 Issue



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.

Featured Sponsor: Answering Service One

Answering Service One: medical answering service and healthcare call center services

Answering Service One offers a new approach to medical answering service and healthcare call center services. Answering Service One doesn’t sell services or tout features. They offer solutions that provide tangible benefits and sought-after outcomes to the healthcare industry.

Let Answering Service One become your number one resource for communicating with patients and callers. With Answering Service One, you can reduce expenses, provide excellence to patients, enhance communications, and realize increased focus.

The motto of Answering Service One says it all: “Number one in quality, number one in customer service, and number one in value.”

To learn more about Answering Service One’s 24-hour medical answering service and healthcare call center service for your practice, clinic, facility, or hospital, contact them at 800-901-7776 or sales@answeringserviceone.com.

The Goal of the Telephone Triage Process

By Rose Moon, RN, BSN

Telephone triage processes are proven to improve access to care professionals, lower patient anxiety, save on ER costs, and prevent unnecessary health complications. The primary goal of the telephone triage process is to deliver safe, quality-oriented telephone triage partnered with outstanding customer service. The health, safety, and wellbeing of the patient is at the forefront of every telephone encounter.

The purpose of the telephone triage process is to assess the patient’s current signs and symptoms, concurrently evaluating their past medical history and current medications. It performs the patient assessment in accordance with protocols that guide the nurse to determine the proper triage disposition to direct care to the safest, most cost-effective solution available at that time.

To accomplish the goals of the telephone triage process, an organization needs to recruit, hire, train, and retain experienced telephone triage nurses. Two valued components that will result in quality patient outcomes are providing comprehensive, detailed orientation, as well as equipping the nursing staff with needed tools: gold-standard telephone triage protocols.

However, the final determining factor of quality phone triage lies in the training of nurses to utilize the protocol tool properly. Anyone can read a protocol. It is the knowledgeable triage nurse who applies enhanced assessment skills, superior judgment, prior nursing experience, and exceptional decision-making abilities to the protocol tool that results in safe, quality outcomes and cost-effective patient care.

Performing hands-on patient assessment allows the healthcare provider to visualize cyanosis, smell foul drainage, palpate an abdomen, and use a stethoscope to assess patients’ lung sounds. Telephone triage nurses don’t have such luxuries to assess patient needs. They’re limited to their ability to query and listen intently to the caller to obtain the necessary details of the patient’s medical symptoms and then direct medical care accordingly.            

Triage nurses don’t always have to be right; they just can’t afford to be wrong. Always err on the side of caution.

Learn more about telephone nurse triage and how to implement successful triage nurse centers by downloading the free e-book: Telephone Nurse Triage Handbook.

Healthcare Call Center News

1Call Introduces Intelligent Series Version 5.3: The 1Call Division of Amtelco announced the release of version 5.3 of their Intelligent Series (IS) software. It contains several updates and additions including:

  • the transfer of voicemail from Infinity to IS for use with the Genesis system,
  • ACD answer call setting to reassign parked calls to another ACD skill,
  • auto-answer announcement greetings,
  • the addition of conference join call recording to conference join and patch call states so that both conferences and patches can be recorded, and
  • an IS supervisor dashboard allowing users to configure multiple dashboard layouts that can be filled with a choice of widgets.

Amtelco’s vice president of research and development, Kevin Beale stated, “We are thrilled to be able to release this impressive software update. Countless hours have been spent researching, developing, and refining each feature, ensuring they will meet the needs of our customers and helping them improve communications with their patients and physicians.”

For more information: 800-225-6035, info@1call.com, or www.1call.com.

New Book Explains How to Start an Answering Service: Longtime industry veteran Peter Lyle DeHaan released his insider’s guide to starting an answering service on January 29, 2019. Titled How to Start a Telephone Answering Service, the book concisely shares the essential information needed to start an answering service. Based on decades of industry experience and years of consulting, Peter DeHaan, PhD, released this book as a service to the industry.

“Starting an answering service is hard work, and I don’t sugarcoat it, but for those who want to move forward, I provide practical advice to help them succeed,” said DeHaan. “It’s a must read for anyone thinking about getting into the answering service industry.”

Learn more at StartAnAnsweringService.com.

1Call’s Genesis Intelligent Series Receives Unify Certification: The 1Call Division of Amtelco received interoperability certification for the Genesis Intelligent Series call center console solution with the version 8.x Unify OpenScape 4000 PBX (private branch exchange) by the Unify Technology Partner Program, based in Munich, Germany, on December 3, 2018. Amtelco is a Unify Technology Partner, with Advanced Level status.

Testing the interoperability between 1Call’s Genesis Intelligent Series solution and Unify’s open SIP interface for the OpenScape 4000 PBX was conducted remotely in October by 1Call’s PBX Integration Lab staff in McFarland, Wisconsin, and the Unify Communications Development Lab in Beersel, Belgium.

1Call received interoperability certification from Unify in 2016 for the Infinity Intelligent Series call center console solution with the version 7.x Unify OpenScape 4000 PBX. According to Amtelco president Tom Curtin, “Amtelco is extremely excited to have this certification to bring to our wonderful partner-customers that are looking forward to getting the best of Unify and Genesis in one tight integration.”

For more information: 800-225-6035, info@1call.com, or www.1call.com.

A Thought for Today

Every man is guilty of all the good he didn’t do. -Voltaire

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