The Work-At-Home Option for Medical Call Centers
By Peter Lyle DeHaan, Ph.D.
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.
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Why Telephone Triage Nurses are a Perfect Complement to Telemedicine
By Dr. Charu Raheja, Ph.D.
Telemedicine has been a medical buzzword for several years, and the variety and depth of services provided have grown dramatically. Telemedicine is a great way to supplement traditional medical practices. The advantages are clear: more convenient care for patients, more doctor availability, and less time spent driving or in the waiting-room. But like any other new evolving field, there is still a learning curve and a need for developing a process that makes telemedicine viable, profitable, and doesn’t require doctors to work 24/7 to meet patients’ requests.
One of the biggest hurdles for doctors is their limited time with patients. In a traditional office setting, doctors have a nurse start patient visits. Nurses take vitals, talk to patients, and evaluate their needs before a doctor walks in the room. The same type of process needs to be designed for telephone medicine, with the difference being that the nurse will do her job remotely, just like the doctor.
First, some practices have nurses in their office taking patient calls and scheduling visits with a doctor. When managing these calls, the nurse performs two tasks. First, the nurse must evaluate whether the patient needs the doctor at all or whether the nurse can help the patient over the phone with home care advice. Second, the nurse must document patient symptom information before the patient speaks to a doctor.
This is where having a good platform to document patient calls and ensure standard protocols are followed to ensure patient safety can help make the process efficient. Medical protocols ensure a standard care every time a nurse takes a call. These protocols are also available electronically, making them easier to use then textbooks. The electronic protocols also allow for the documentation of care advice directly on the patient chart for review by the physician during the telehealth visit.
However, not all doctors offering telehealth services have their own nurses available to answer patient calls. An alternative for these doctors is to hire a telephone nurse triage service to work with them. A nurse triage service can serve as an extension of the office by providing patients with a trained nurse to evaluate patient symptoms to determine what actions to take.
What sets a high-quality telephone nurse triage service apart is the ability for the physician to have custom orders and preferences built into the system so that the nurses can act as a true extension of the physician. A high-quality nurse triage nurse service is also able to schedule patient appointments for those that need one.
Providing patients with access to triage nurses also helps doctors who don’t have the ability to provide telehealth services 24/7 because the nurses are still available for the patients. If given the appropriate instructions, triage nurses typically resolve half the callers’ issues without the need for a doctor.
In a survey of 35,000 patient phone calls, in over 50 percent of the cases, nurses resolved the callers’ medical symptoms by giving them home care advice. These nurses also determined which callers required a physical visit to an urgent care or an ER (in an event of an emergency, such as symptoms of a potential heart attack).
Telephone nurse triage allows a practice’s telemedicine program to work seamlessly, whether the office is open or closed. Setting up a nurse triage system where nurses use standardized protocols to answer patient questions increases the productivity and profits for a practice. When nurses use triage protocols, doctors can have confidence nurses will ask the right questions and cover everything. The basic patient information, the protocols used, and the nurse notes can serve as a quick reference for the physician prior to the telehealth visit, just like the notes doctors receive when their nurses see a patient during a physical office visit.
Charu Raheja, Ph.D., is the CEO of TriageLogic a provider of quality, affordable triage solutions, including comprehensive after-hours medical call center software, day time triage protocol software, and nurse triage on call. Customers include both institutional and private practices. For information on setting up a nurse triage service, contact TriageLogic to get a quote or set up a demo.
Healthcare Call Center News
TriageLogic Integrates Triage Call Center Functionality into EMR Systems
For healthcare systems and insurance companies with existing EMR systems, TriageLogic released a freestanding protocol module to add triage capabilities to any existing EMR. MyTriageChecklist Call Center Version adds enhanced capabilities to make any EMR a robust triage call center without accessing or storing any PHI. It takes all the critical elements from a free-standing triage system, such as the Schmitt-Thompson protocols and incorporates them to provide a similar experience to a full call center platform.
MyTriageChecklist allows organizations to create custom workflows, scripting, and protocols based on each client or location they serve. This empowers nurses to follow specific instructions during the call to provide personalized and efficient care.
The administrative panel accesses information in real time. A reporting dashboard gives deep insights into call center metrics, such as presenting symptoms, number of calls, outcomes for billing, QA, and ROI calculation.
As many health centers look to add a clinical capability to their call centers or replace more expensive legacy systems, they now have a turnkey plug-in module available with TriageLogic’s myTriageChecklist Call Center Version.
A Thought for Today
“If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner.” -Nelson Mandela