Stop Reacting and Take Initiative
By Peter Lyle DeHaan, Ph.D.
Though I no longer work in a call center, I remember those days well. There was always something demanding my attention, some urgent matter to attend to. I’d often spend an entire day, sometimes all week, just putting out fires. Charles Hummel called this the “tyranny of the urgent,” where urgent matters occupy all our time and push aside doing those important things that matter more.
This is true in the call center industry and even more so when you connect healthcare to it. Do more, do it for less, and do it faster. It seems there’s always a pressing need that demands our attention: an open shift, employee conflicts, and scheduling problems. There are technical issues, vendor problems, and stakeholder complaints. It seems there’s never enough time to handle everything, let alone attending to what’s most important, such as making things better.
But working to make things better is exactly what we need to do. Here are some ideas.
Expand Agent Recruitment:
A common call center complaint is not enough qualified applicants. Look at what you can do to change that. Is there a new labor market you can tap? What can you do to make your call center more attractive to the type of people you want to hire? Addressing this will require some creativity. It may help to seek assistance from knowledgeable people outside your organization and even outside medical call centers.
Improve Employee Screening:
Another frequent call center issue is agent turnover. You hire promising individuals, spend time and money to train them, and then they quit. Look at why they leave. And consider those who stay. Seek to find patterns. Then apply these conclusions to your hiring practices.
Unless you can validate these findings, from a legal standpoint, you must be careful in how you use this information. Here’s one thought: At some point during the interview process, you could say, “We found that people with these characteristics tend to enjoy working for us. Do you feel this describes you?” This will help applicants self-select, with some ill-fitting candidates opting not to pursue the position further.
A third concern is training, a task that is necessary, time-consuming, and expensive. Rethink how you train. Focus on what will make it more effective. Ask around and see what others are doing, both those at other medical call centers, as well as those outside the industry. Every organization needs to train employees. Learn what you can from others and apply it to your situation. Seek to make training fun, effective, and fast.
Expand Service Offerings:
The idea of adding more to your workload may seem crazy, but often doing new things will invigorate staff. Look for additional ways to help your clientele. This will increase your call center’s value and serve callers more fully.
Investigate New Technology:
Technological opportunities for medical call centers change fast. It seems each week there’s something new, something better, something more powerful that could help your staff do their job more effectively. Seek these tools. Test them and implement them. Your staff will thank you.
Don’t try to address all these opportunities at once. That will drive you crazy. Instead, pick the one that will have the greatest impact on your operation and make it your priority. Let this become your important initiative that will take precedence over dealing exclusively with the urgency of day-to-day operations.
Peter Lyle DeHaan, Ph.D., 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 Call Center Answers the Call to Do More
Medical call centers are being tasked with doing more. Take the largest call center within Indiana University Health, which is retooling to handle new work.
At the start of the year, the 105-person center in Indianapolis was handed a goal of creating a collections program, along with heightened focus on reducing initial payer denials by improved verification of insurance registration and eligibility. That’s on top of its previous job duties of scheduling and messaging support, as the virtual front desk for dozens of medical offices within IU Health’s largest physician network.
For Shelby Smith, director of the call center, the new tasks pose a challenge his team is ready to tackle. When Smith explained the change to his team, he played up the advantages. “Instead of focusing on the IU Health Physicians business unit, now we are part of the larger IU Health system,” he said. “That means more resources, the ability to have more networking, and give more full-service work. We truly can connect with patients differently now.”
The change puts the call center under the revenue cycle business unit. This requires retraining the center’s workforce, so they’re prepared to answer patient questions with the new processes being implemented. Once his staff is comfortable with the new duties, Smith said it no longer will be necessary to cold-transfer patients to another department to get their questions answered about insurance and billing issues. “Now that we have integrated into the revenue cycle team,” Smith said, “we have the ability to connect the patients better even if we don’t have the answer.”
The main point is to better serve patients.
“The idea gives us an opportunity to help the patient in different ways than before and be a more well-rounded partner with the service lines,” Smith said. He expects his staff will be fully trained to handle the new duties by mid-year.
Based in an office building in downtown Indianapolis, the call center is a busy place, handling 1.3 million calls last year (less than a third for primary care, the rest specialty care). Smith, who joined the call center four years ago when it had seventy-five employees, has helped wean the call center completely off temporary workers. Annual turnover has been cut to under 26 percent, from the over 66.3 percent when he began, a figure Smith would like to bring even lower.
Smith said the center has become more efficient through Lean process improvement techniques, which focus on managing for daily improvement. This includes daily work huddles that allow staff to pass on vital information between shifts.
As the center takes on more duties, Smith expects staff to keep growing, which would normally require more office space. But Smith introduced work-from-home options to employees. Currently, about a third of his staff work from their home. Over time, half of the center’s employees might work from home, using company-supplied computers and internet service, Smith said.
The option to work remotely not only frees up costly office space but makes for happier employees. And happier employees are sure to lead to better service for the call center’s ultimate client: the patients.
A Thought for Today
“Kindness is always fashionable.” -Amelia Barr