Managing Home-Based Agents
By Peter L. DeHaan, PhD
Many healthcare call centers are decentralized, linking multiple centers together and embracing home-based agents. While there are many advantages with home-based agents, the risks are great for those who rush into it without careful planning. Here are some considerations:
Formulate a Clear Policy: Your call center either has agents who already work from home or agents who want to work from home. Regardless, you need a clear policy to address this. If agents working from home is something you will allow, specify how and when it can occur, what the expectations are, and how you’ll measure agent efficacy, both qualitatively and quantitatively. If you won’t allow home-based agents, this also needs to be stated in writing. A third option is whether telecommuting will be considered on a case-by-case basis. Regardless, have a clear policy and stick with it. Don’t subject employees to inconsistent behavior.
Have a Plan and Work the Plan: Once you have a plan for home-based agents, clearly communicate and carefully implement it. A “plan as you go” approach will frustrate staff. And whenever staff becomes unsure or upset, the best ones will leave first.
Train Managers to Properly Oversee Remote Staff: Many call center managers use the “management by walking around” style of overseeing staff. This common method is most effective when employees are centralized; it’s disastrous in a distributed environment. If a manager can’t effectively handle remote staff, provide the needed training or find a new manager. Don’t make employees who work at home suffer because of ineffective management.
Avoid Using “Us” and “Them”: When a staff is physically separated, an “us versus them” mentality will emerge if left unchecked. Although usually not malicious, remote staff members are often overlooked. Imagine being off-site and receiving a message that there are donuts in the break room or being told to check the potluck signup sheet posted next to the time clock. Referring to remote staff as “them” and the local staff as “us,” especially by management, is a staffing disaster waiting to erupt.
There are many benefits from allowing agents to work from home, but if this is pursued without the proper preparation and forethought, all the anticipated advantages will evaporate. A bit of careful planning today will result in a better outcome tomorrow.
Final HIPAA Compliance Deadline Looming
By Julia Goebel
The deadline looms for the new HIPAA omnibus final rule compliance. By September 23, 2013, all healthcare providers, hospitals, health plans, other entities, and businesses that provide services and share protected health information (PHI) must comply with the new rules. Those who are not in compliance by September 23 open themselves up to the possibility of receiving up to a $1.5 million fine per violation.
In their Final Rule Summary, the AMA said there are three areas that physicians will need to focus on to comply with the new rules:
- Privacy, Security, and Breach Notification policies and procedures (and in some cases new workflows and forms)
- Notice of Privacy Practices (NPP)
- Business Associate (BA) Agreements
The HIPAA Omnibus Rule became a law on March 26, 2013, with a 180-day grace period for all to update their systems. HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said, “Much has changed in healthcare since HIPAA was enacted over fifteen years ago. The new rule will help protect patient privacy and safeguard patients’ health information in an ever expanding digital age.”
- Data Security and Vendor Relationships Are Key: Data security has moved to the top of our social conscience, and concerns about security have spread to all of those with access to PHI.
- Penalties Increase: After September 23, penalties will increase for HIPAA noncompliance based of the level of negligence, with the maximum penalty set at $1.5 million per violation.
- Changes Strengthen HITECH: The changes also strengthen the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Breach Notification requirements by clarifying when breaches of unsecured health information must be reported to HHS.
Additionally, Becker’s Hospital Review did a fantastic job of laying out fifteen things you need to know before the September 23 deadline. Some of the main changes include:
- A patient may ask for a copy of their medical record in electronic form.
- Patients who pay out-of-pocket for services can ask their health provider to not share information with their health insurance provider.
- There are stricter rules relating to a breach in patient’s security.
- New limits exist for the use of PHI in marketing and fund-raising campaigns.
- Everyone involved in the handling of PHI must be in compliance.
Julia Goebel is director of marketing at NotifyMD and a frequent blogger.
Corporate Call Center and Indegene Launch Readmission Avoidance Program
To address concerns over ACA readmission rates, Corporate Call Center Inc. (CCC) partnered with Indegene Healthcare to create an outreach contact program to help hospitals and medical centers reduce the amount of readmissions for patients sixty-five years of age and older.
The majority of all readmissions involving Medicare patients occur within fifteen days of hospital discharge. A 2004 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) shows that readmission rates drop by 36 percent with just one follow-up phone call to recently discharged patients.
The program enlists trained professionals to reach out to patients within twenty-four to seventy-two hours after discharge, and then, on a predetermined frequency, to ensure that they understand and are following their discharge instructions. This patient concierge service combines an array of touch-points based on the individual’s preference to receive information. Using Indegene Healthcare’s Aptilon+Optimax platforms to deliver a blend of cloud and premise-based services, CCC’s call centers offer a variety of ways to contact patients across multiple channels (voice, video, email, and Web chat) in an effort to further reduce readmission rates.
CCC professionals verify if the patient is well, if they are following their discharge instructions, and if they are taking their medications as prescribed. They also ascertain that they have someone to care for them if necessary and confirm that they are keeping their scheduled appointments with their primary and specialty physicians.
“I believe this program will help keep patients, particularly Medicare patients, from having to be readmitted to the hospital and costing our clients additional expense,” said Jim Gallagher, vice president of sales for CCC.
“Given our innovative platforms that integrate patient enablement, analytics, behavioral pathways, and education, the CCC partnership will add significant value to patients and clients,” added Dr. Rajesh Nair, president of Indegene.
LanguageLine Solutions Offers Video Interpreting Over Mobile Devices
LanguageLine Solutions, formerly Language Line Services, launched LangaugeUc, a remote video interpreting solution offering Spanish, Cantonese, Mandarin, Vietnamese, Arabic, Somali, Russian, and American Sign Language (ASL).
“For thirty years we have been the language you’ve heard over the phone. Now we also are the language you see,” said Scott W. Klein, president and CEO of LanguageLine Solutions. “Tablets, iPads, and smartphones with video capabilities are everywhere. LangaugeUc is the best demonstration of the power that video brings, not only for the deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals but also for spoken languages with new depth and capability. LangaugeUc enables interpreters to see firsthand critical nonverbal gestures, body language, and facial expressions to improve communication. The video interface even allows interpreters to pull up a digital whiteboard on their screen and type out information.”
The solution also supports an additional 200 spoken languages with audio only on any LanguageUc enabled device from PCs, Macs, iPads, Android tablets, smartphones, and existing video-conferencing endpoints.
The service is simple for anyone to use. Doctors, nurses, medical staff, bankers, insurance adjusters, legal professionals, and public safety personnel sign up and download the LangaugeUc app, which uses an encrypted network connection to ensure HIPAA and ADA compliance. At the press of a button, a live interpreter is virtually face-to-face with the user, the deaf and hard-of-hearing, or the limited English speaker.
“LanguageUc offers flexibility to any organization,” Klein said. “The service eliminates the need to schedule an interpreter or pay minimum fees associated with on-site interpreters.”
For more information, call 800-752-6096 or visit www.languageline.com.
NAEO Intelligent Series Workshop a Success
The NAEO Education Committee thanks its membership and its platinum sponsor, Amtelco, for helping to make the 2013 Summer Intelligent Series Workshop in Atlanta August 5–7, 2013, a success. With nearly sixty attendees, this year certainly surpassed years past. By continuing to listen to the membership regarding mid-level management seminars, NAEO was able to develop a comprehensive yet cost-effective training workshop.
Located at the Embassy Suites Hotel at Atlanta Airport, the venue was truly amazing for this seminar. “We had many TAS and hospital members attend, and it was extremely well received,” said Lina Masri, NAEO board member and education committee chair.
“This session was awesome. We have amazingly talented and generous people in our group who were willing to give both their time and their knowledge,” said attendee Mike Burkinshaw of Comm-Link. Ashley Leturgez of The Legacy Connection added, “I was so pleased with what my employees learned.”
The committee is already working to plan the 2014 workshop based on feedback from attendees.
Wide Price Variation Seen for Privately Insured
Across thirteen selected US metropolitan areas, hospital prices for privately insured patients –especially for outpatient care – are much higher than Medicare and vary widely within and across communities, according to a new study by the Center for Studying Health System Change (HSC) for the nonpartisan, nonprofit National Institute for Health Care Reform (NIHCR).
Based on claims data for 590,225 active and retired non-elderly autoworkers and their dependents, the study found that average hospital prices for privately insured patients in the thirteen communities with large concentrations of autoworkers are about one-and-a-half times Medicare rates for inpatient care and two times what Medicare pays for outpatient services.
Within individual communities, prices vary widely, even after accounting for differences in the complexity of services provided. The highest-priced hospital typically is paid 60 percent more for the same inpatient services than the lowest-priced hospital. The price gap within markets is even greater for hospital outpatient services, with the highest-priced hospital typically paid nearly double than the lowest-priced hospital, according to the study.
“The dramatic variation in prices from one hospital to another points to the significant market power of certain hospitals to command high prices, even in markets with a dominant insurer,” said Chapin White, PhD, an HSC senior researcher and coauthor of the study with Amelia M. Bond, MHS, a former HSC research analyst, and HSC senior fellow James D. Reschovsky, PhD.
In contrast to hospital prices, prices for primary care physician services generally are close to Medicare rates and vary little within markets, the study found. Prices for specialist physician services, however, are higher relative to Medicare and vary more within and across markets.