Tag Archives: healthcare call center news

The January 2020 Issue



Improve Your Call Center by Providing Ongoing Skills Training

Unless You Remind Them, Employees Will Forget Their Training and Pick Up Bad Habits

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan-call center

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, Ph.D.

This year we’ll embark on a series of articles about how to move your healthcare call center forward to better meet the needs and expectations of your callers and patients. We’ll start by talking about providing your frontline staff with ongoing skills training.

For your call center, you begin by hiring the best staff, providing them with the detailed training they need to do their jobs well, and then scheduling them to handle calls. It’s a great start, but it’s just the beginning. 

Over time their skills will drift away from what you expect and migrate toward what is expedient. Even more of a concern, they will learn from their coworkers sitting next to them. Though they may acquire some good skills this way, they’re more apt to pick up less-than-ideal habits. It’s a given that what you don’t want to occur in your call center will much more readily permeate your entire staff then the best practices you desire them to emulate.

That’s why it’s essential to provide periodic training to your staff. Through this, you can reinforce the best skills in call handling, customer service, and patient satisfaction that you want them to consistently provide. And then you can teach them new, enhanced skills too. 

Just as vision is leaky, so too are call handling skills. Both require regular reminders. Therefore, you need to teach and reinforce the skills that you want your staff to use in your call center. Do this on a regular basis. You need to provide this to every frontline employee. 

Though you may want to start with the under-performing staff first, this is backwards. If you start with them, they’ll view your training as punitive, which will detract from your objective of enhancing their skills.

Instead, you might want to start with your best-performing staff. They are apt to view the advanced training as a reward, making them much more likely to retain and implement the customer service techniques you teach them. Then roll the training out to the rest of your staff. They’ll receive your instruction more positively.

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


Featured Sponsor: TriageLogic

TriageLogic

TriageLogic is a leading provider of quality, affordable triage solutions, including comprehensive after-hours call center services and innovative online systems for use in both institutional and private practice settings. In 2005, board certified pediatrician Ravi K. Raheja, MD and Charu Raheja, PhD founded TriageLogic. TriageLogic is a healthcare company that creates leading-edge telephone medicine technology based on practical experience and a thorough understanding of the field. Whether a busy private practice in need of a phone triage system or a hospital seeking complete after-hours call center solutions, TriageLogic has a product to meet your needs.


How Telephone Triage Nurses Act as An Extension of Physicians and Practices

By Ravi K. Raheja, MD

In an era where there are multiple sources of medical advice and people frequently use Google to get answers, telephone triage nurses need to be mindful that they play a critical role in ensuring patients get the customized care directed by their physician. This is vital for consumer-focused patient care. That is why sophisticated triage systems have custom instructions and standing orders. These tailored directions are based on physician or practice preferences for triage nurses to follow once the appropriate care for the patient has been determined.

What Are Custom Orders? Custom orders are additional instructions that physicians and practices add to existing protocols. An example would be telling the patient to take ibuprofen over Tylenol or sending them to a certain ER or urgent care facility. Custom orders are designed to help the triage nurse function as an extension of the doctor, without having to always call the on-call doctor. With custom orders, patients receive continuity of care, reassurance, and the ability for physician follow up the next day.

How to Properly Represent the Physician and Group: Through the triage process of assessing the patient, choosing highest acuity protocol, disposition, and advising the patient per protocol guidelines, triage nurses need to keep in mind that they represent a specific physician or practice.

Since they never see the patient in person, it is important that triage nurses provide the empathy and care that will make patients feel better. Patients are not just a voice over the phone with a problem for nurses to solve. Every phone call has an impact, and one of the best ways nurses can care for patients is to establish and affirm the trust they have in their provider.

When giving protocol advice, triage nurses should first check for any specific practice orders that apply to the situation. Then, as they advise, they should use phrases like, “Your doctor would like you to…” or “Your doctor cares very much about their patients and would want you to…”

Summary: Telephone triage nurses are important in establishing that the patient’s doctor cares about their problem. They are a crucial link to the patient trusting the care and advice of their physician. Since triage nurses are with a patient for a moment, it is vital that they gain their trust and provide the best care. 

When the patient call ends, their continuity of care is in the hands of their physician. Telephone triage nurses help the patient beyond the call when they nurture that trust in the doctor they represent.

Ravi K. Raheja, MD is the COO and medical director of the TriageLogic Group. Founded in 2005, TriageLogic is a URAC accredited, physician-led provider of high-quality telehealth services, nurse triage, triage education, and software for telephone medicine. For more information visit www.triagelogic.com and www.continuwell.com


Healthcare Call Center News

Email us with your news for the next issue.


A Thought for Today

A man should never be ashamed to own he has been in the wrong, which is but saying, in other words, that he is wiser today than he was yesterday. -Alexander Pope

The November 2019 Issue



5 Reasons to Be Thankful for Your Job

Working in a Medical Call Center is Hard, but Don’t Forget the Good Parts

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan-call center

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, Ph.D.

Have you ever left your call center and wished you didn’t have to come back? Of course you have. Yet you return. Having this feeling means you care and proves you’re normal.

Working in a medical call center has its stresses, difficulties, and frustrations. But don’t let this cloud the good parts. And there are many. 

Let’s press pause for a moment and reflect on what you can be thankful for through your work at a medical call center. Here are five ideas to get you started.

1. Enjoy Financial Provision: At a basic level we work to earn a living. Yes, every employee wishes they made more and thinks they should. But overall you’re doing great. Your job covers your basic needs and then some. Don’t look at the 1 percent in the United States who have far surpassed you. Consider the 99 percent in the rest of the world who wished they had your standard of living.

2. Work with a Great Team: Every day you work alongside some amazing and talented people. Yes, there may be one or two that irritate you, but this is true in every job, as it is with every family and every social gathering. Remember, you’re a team, and you get things done. Together you’re stronger, more effective, and meet your mandate call after call.

3. Help Others: Handling call after call can have its drudgery. But remember that each caller is a real person who needs your support. They’re calling you for assistance. And you’re able to help. Call after call, you help people. Because of you, their lives are little bit healthier. You’re doing your part to make our world a better place.

4. Save Lives: Working in the medical call center can also have its life and death ramifications, especially if you’re doing telephone triage. Though it may not happen every day, each life you save is the ultimate reward that enables you to persevere. But beyond saving physical lives, all healthcare call center work helps save people emotionally, spiritually, or financially. Each call represents an opportunity for you to make a difference in the caller’s life.

5. Possess Purpose: Some jobs are boring, and others carry no meaning other than a paycheck. Not so when you work in a medical call center. You have purpose, a critical purpose. You and your coworkers help others on every phone call and save lives—whether literally or figuratively—on a regular basis.

Conclusion: You’re bound to have bad days in your call center. That’s normal. But don’t let them obscure the good days. Remember how much you have to be thankful for. You have a job that provides for you, benefits society, and carries significance.

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


Featured Sponsor: Pulsar 360

Pulsar360 provides carrier services and disaster recovery for medical answering services

Pulsar360 provides SIP Trunking and disaster recovery solutions for medical answering services. Pulsar360, Inc. has served the telecommunications requirements of SMB to enterprise business customers since 2001 and the medical call center industry since 2008.

Pulsar360 services over 170 medical-centric answering services, meeting their special requirements, which includes at no additional charge: 20 percent burstable SIP trunking; SIP trunking, toll-free number, and national network redundancy; T38 faxing that meets HIPAA compliance regulations; carrier services; and an infinite number of automatic failover alternatives.

In addition, Pulsar360 offers hot-standby business continuity/disaster recovery solutions designed for medical call centers. If the call center’s premise system is down or cloud system is off-line, calls automatically failover and are delivered directly to operator desktops with calling party ID and customer name or account number. Also included are cloud-based IVR, multiple call queues, and skills-based routing when in failover mode.

With Pulsar’s SD-WAN offering they can provide QoS over the internet to their data centers. Their 24/7 internet quality of service monitoring and issue alerting, which includes scheduled VoIP quality tests with archived test results, insures they deliver the reliability to meet and exceed their customer’s expectations.


Customizing Care for Patient Populations with a Nurse Triage System

By Ravi K. Raheja, MD

Patients today have more options than ever to receive care outside of their primary care—if they even have one. Having more options may seem like a good thing. However, many times the consumer is confused about the best care to address their symptoms. In the process, they end up either over-utilizing services or underestimating serious medical symptoms, creating both a drain to the healthcare system as well as a possible threat to their lives.

In a population health setting, this can lead to inappropriate use of resources which ends up frustrating the patient and expensive for the health system. Managing patient populations requires providers to use a customized approach to provide better care for patients, create a healthier population, and reduce healthcare costs. Providing access to a robust, nurse triage call solution with custom orders is a critical step in enabling this approach.

Managing multiple chronic diseases for a single patient requires complex scheduling, medicine regimens, and monitoring tasks, not to mention the counseling and patient education that is crucial to effective self-care. In addition to caring and helping their patients, providers benefit from offering high-quality telephone care for their chronically ill patients because it improves treatment effectiveness and compliance. Time and cost burdens for managing a whole population of such patients can be a significant problem for providers.

Key Features of a Nurse Triage System

  • Incorporate Gold Standard Protocols from Schmitt-Thompson
  • Record all calls
  • Use licensed registered nurses
  • Call back time less than 30 minutes
  • Customizable standing orders where the nurses follow instructions specific to practice or physician
  • HIPAA-compliant secure texting to the MD’s smartphone
  • Encounters sent via fax, email, FTP, or online access to notes
  • Optional integration module
  • Optional telehealth app

Telephone triage nurses serve as a continuation of a provider’s staff, allowing patients access to medical care and appropriate advice beyond the employed staff and their hours. Triage nurses use a combination of protocols and clinical directives. When a nurse triage service allows for custom orders, the nurse can follow tailored instructions based on physician or practice preferences once the nurse has determined the appropriate level of care. 

For example, some doctors prefer their patients use specific brands of medications when necessary. Other examples include a particular urgent care center or ER if patients need immediate treatment. This option allows the nurse to help patients without having to contact the doctor after every call. The software should also provide data analytics reports allowing doctors and practices to understand their patient groups and frequent questions better.

Ravi K. Raheja, MD is the COO and medical director of the TriageLogic Group. Founded in 2005, TriageLogic is a URAC accredited, physician-led provider of high-quality telehealth services, nurse triage, triage education, and software for telephone medicine. For more information visit www.triagelogic.com and www.continuwell.com


Healthcare Call Center News

TeamHealth Medical Call Center Rebrands as AccessNurse: Started in 1996 to support TeamHealth physicians, TeamHealth Medical Call Center evolved over time, outgrowing its brand identity and core message, which is a natural part of every dynamic, growing business. Now, more than two decades later, they have evolved to become a premiere provider of medical call center solutions, offering services to more than fifteen thousand providers in individual and group practices, hospital systems, universities, community health centers, and other medical organizations across the United States. Today they are more dynamic than ever, and their new brand of AccessNurse reflects this reality.

1Call Expands Architecture Solutions Team: 1Call, a division of Amtelco and a leader in developing software solutions and applications designed for the specific needs of the healthcare call center marketplace, announced the promotion of Amber Schroedl to solutions architect. “Amber has been a key part of our success, and brings a unique, real-world set of skills to our department,” said Kevin Mahoney, director of solutions architecture. “We are thrilled to promote her to this important position and serve our customers better by reducing implementation and go-live times.”

Email us with your news for the next issue.


A Thought for Today

Every creature is better alive than dead, men and moose and pine trees, and he who understands it aright will rather preserve its life than destroy it. -Henry David Thoreau

Pursuing Work-Life Balance in the Medical Call Center

Take Key Steps to Reduce Burnout and Increase Retention

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, Ph.D.

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

We hear a lot about work-life balance. This is extra challenging in the healthcare industry, as well as with call center work. The combination of these two areas in the medical call center, results in a need to strive to achieve a work-life balance. Doing so will help reduce employee burnout and increase retention of both management and frontline staff.

Consider these areas.

Nurses and Frontline Staff

Strive to provide a separation between work and nonwork activities for all non-management staff. Employees in the office, taking calls are working. Nonwork time is when they’re not in the office taking calls. Don’t intrude on their nonwork time. This means not calling, texting, or emailing. Even if the interaction seems minimal, it sucks the employee back into a workplace mindset and detracts them from the nonwork activity they’re immersed in. Great bosses don’t do this.

Management and Administration 

It’s harder for people in management to not take their work home, be it mentally or physically. Yet when they do, it intrudes on their nonwork reality and threatens to unbalance their life. 

Managers, give supervisors and employees clear guidelines about when they should and shouldn’t contact you when you’re not in the office. Though you don’t want to shut yourself off from urgent communication, you also don’t want to open yourself to around-the-clock interruption. 

Two key steps to aid in this are empowering on-site supervisors and establishing on-call staff. When implemented properly, these two functions can help shield management from work-related interruptions when they’re not working.

Shift Supervision

Most call centers have shift supervisors. Train and empower supervisors to make decisions on your behalf when you’re not in the office. That is, when you’re not working and are attending to the rest of your life.

You may worry about the possibility of shift supervisors making an error in judgment. It will happen, but don’t view this as a mistake. Instead, consider it as a learning opportunity to equip them to perform their job with greater effectiveness.

On-Call Personnel

Some call centers have management and administration rotate on-call responsibilities. In this way, the on-call person deals with all emergency and urgent situations that arise in the call center outside of regular business hours. In doing so they shield all other management and administration from enduring work-related interruptions to their life. 

Ideally, the on-site supervisors should be so well trained and fully empowered that they’ll never need to reach the on-call person with a question or problem. This is how it should be, but for those exceptions, it’s great to have a designated contact person to assist the shift supervisor.

Conclusion

True work-life balance may be an illusion that we’ll never reach, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. Follow these steps to bring you and your staff closer to this important equilibrium. When you do, you’ll increase their job satisfaction, minimize the risk of burnout, and increase their tenure at your medical call center. And you’ll realize these same benefits for yourself.

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

The September 2019 Issue



Pursuing Work-Life Balance in the Medical Call Center

Take Key Steps to Reduce Burnout and Increase Retentio

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan-call center

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, Ph.D.

We hear a lot about work-life balance. This is extra challenging in the healthcare industry, as well as with call center work. The combination of these two areas in the medical call center, results in a need to strive to achieve a work-life balance. Doing so will help reduce employee burnout and increase retention of both management and frontline staff.

Consider these areas.

Nurses and Frontline Staff: Strive to provide a separation between work and nonwork activities for all non-management staff. Employees in the office, taking calls are working. Nonwork time is when they’re not in the office taking calls. Don’t intrude on their nonwork time. This means not calling, texting, or emailing. Even if the interaction seems minimal, it sucks the employee back into a workplace mindset and detracts them from the nonwork activity they’re immersed in. Great bosses don’t do this.

Management and Administration: It’s harder for people in management to not take their work home, be it mentally or physically. Yet when they do, it intrudes on their nonwork reality and threatens to unbalance their life. 

Managers, give supervisors and employees clear guidelines about when they should and shouldn’t contact you when you’re not in the office. Though you don’t want to shut yourself off from urgent communication, you also don’t want to open yourself to around-the-clock interruption. 

Two key steps to aid in this are empowering on-site supervisors and establishing on-call staff. When implemented properly, these two functions can help shield management from work-related interruptions when they’re not working.

Shift Supervision: Most call centers have shift supervisors. Train and empower supervisors to make decisions on your behalf when you’re not in the office. That is, when you’re not working and are attending to the rest of your life.

You may worry about the possibility of shift supervisors making an error in judgment. It will happen, but don’t view this as a mistake. Instead, consider it as a learning opportunity to equip them to perform their job with greater effectiveness.

On-Call Personnel: Some call centers have management and administration rotate on-call responsibilities. In this way, the on-call person deals with all emergency and urgent situations that arise in the call center outside of regular business hours. In doing so they shield all other management and administration from enduring work-related interruptions to their life. 

Ideally the on-site supervisors should be so well trained and fully empowered that they’ll never need to reach the on-call person with a question or problem. This is how it should be, but for those exceptions, it’s great to have a designated contact person to assist the shift supervisor.

Conclusion: True work-life balance may be an illusion that we’ll never reach, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. Follow these steps to bring you and your staff closer to this important equilibrium. When you do, you’ll increase their job satisfaction, minimize the risk of burnout, and increase their tenure at your medical call center. And you’ll realize these same benefits for yourself.

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


Featured Sponsor: AccessNurse, a TeamHealth Company

AccessNurse

Formerly known as the TeamHealth Medical Call Center, AccessNurse is the premier provider of comprehensive medical call center solutions, serving more than 15,000 physicians, healthcare organizations, federally qualified health centers, universities, and health plans across the country. AccessNurse provides clients with a wide range of cost-effective healthcare services such as telephone nurse triage, answering service and virtual front desk services, post-discharge programs, and hospital call center partnerships. They are an industry leader in reducing inappropriate or unnecessary utilization of healthcare resources, enhancing risk management, and increasing patient satisfaction. For additional information, visit www.accessnurse24.com or call 844-277-6312.


Using Device Data and Nurse Triage to Improve Value-Based Care

By Ravi K. Raheja, MD

New technologies are transforming how clinicians deliver healthcare. At the same time, digital solutions alone aren’t enough to help patients. Incorporating some human component increases patient compliance and education, further reducing healthcare costs. Medical call centers should adopt software and increase the role of triage nurses to complement traditional care settings.

For example, digital diabetes prevention and treatment platforms connect users with support communities and health coaches who can remotely monitor chronic conditions such as weight, blood sugar, diet, and medicine intake. Setting thresholds and alerts can notify healthcare providers about abnormal, potentially abnormal, or dangerous values. While the devices can collect and transmit data, a medical professional still needs to interpret the data and direct patients on the next steps in context with their symptoms and health status.

Telephone triage nurses play a vital role in interpreting the data and providing appropriate follow up for patients who use these technologies. They act as the first line of screening when an alert or abnormal value is reported. They have the training to talk to patients, assess symptoms, and determine the next best steps based on combining the data with the full patient assessment over the phone.

To assess patients and direct them appropriately, the nurses need triage protocols. Most medical call centers use the gold standard protocols from Schmitt-Thompson to assess symptoms. Call centers should also incorporate robust protocol builders, a technology that enables an organization to modify existing protocols to meet their needs and create new protocols when required.

By using custom developed protocols, triage nurses can assess a patient using the data received from devices with appropriate next steps for medical care. As a result, triage nurses play a significant role in this new digital era driven by value-based care. Combining data from devices and other sources with innovative triage technology, triage nurses can act as a bridge between patients and providers. This creates a viable monitoring solution that provides cost-effective care.

In conjunction with custom protocols, organizations should use platforms to put in custom workflows. As an example, once a nurse has determined an appropriate level of care, they can further direct the patient to specific care locations, referral numbers, or provide handouts via text or email. This allows the triage nurse to serve as an effective first point of contact and get the patients to the appropriate next steps on the first call.

Finally, look for companies that provide an optional mobile app to enable patients to take advantage of increased self-service, access to customized resources, and insight into their own information. Technology is changing the access, monitoring, and delivery of healthcare. Value-based solutions are now possible to optimize your patient care and decrease healthcare expenses.

Ravi K. Raheja, MD is the COO and medical director of the TriageLogic Group. Founded in 2005, TriageLogic is a URAC accredited, physician-led provider of high-quality telehealth services, nurse triage, triage education, and software for telephone medicine. For more information visit www.triagelogic.com and www.continuwell.com


Healthcare Call Center News

TeamHealth Medical Call Center Rebrands as AccessNurse: Started in 1996 to support TeamHealth physicians, TeamHealth Medical Call Center evolved over time, outgrowing its brand identity and core message, which is a natural part of every dynamic, growing business. Now, more than two decades later, they have evolved to become a premier provider of medical call center solutions, offering services to more than 15,000 providers in individual and group practices, hospital systems, universities, community health centers, and other medical organizations across the country. Today they are more dynamic than ever, and their new brand of AccessNurse reflects this reality.

Call 4 Health Wins Quality Awards: Call 4 Health received the 2019 Award of Excellence (for 5 consecutive years) and the Call Center Award of Distinction from ATSI, The Association of Teleservices International, Inc. The Award of Excellence involves an independent firm that mystery shops messaging services and grades the service they observe. The Call Center Award of Distinction is a sister program to the Award of Excellence that focuses on longer, more involved call handling designed to measure the skills of professional call center agents throughout North America.

1Call Partners with American Messaging: 1Call, a division of Amtelco, announced their partnership with American Messaging. Combining 1Call’s operator console with American Messaging’s critical messaging service will improve critical communications in healthcare areas that are designed to keep other wireless technologies out. 

Mike Friedel, 1Call’s vice president of sales stated, “This exciting partnership with American Messaging elevates the capabilities of our operator consoles to better serve customers who utilize paging services.”

Dave Andersen, American Messaging chief operating officer noted, “Paging remains the most reliable technology for critical healthcare communications, and our partnership with Amtelco helps to optimize current workflows for our customers.”

Email us with your news for the next issue.


A Thought for Today

Live a balanced life. Learn some and think some, and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work every day some. -Robert Fulghum

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 logo

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 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.


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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.


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A Thought for Today

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