Dr. Nancy Gagliano & Michelle Taylor
Centralizing patient access is the current trend in healthcare. Improve your patient experience by giving them one phone number to access your entire health system. Improve patient access, volume, reduce costs all while meeting rising consumer expectations. However, once an organization starts down the centralized patient access path, it gets complicated quickly. Many organizations soon realize that technology options are more complicated than a phone system with routing capabilities. While third party vendors have compelling stories, it is challenging to know what you need. How many of the solutions below has your organization invested in?
- Precision routing: Most call centers are organized by pods, function, or skill sets. Calls are routed by a decision tree. However, the volume of calls is never completely balanced and often a second layer of routing is needed. For example, you have 5 contact center staff who are well trained in scheduling for cardiology and the Tuesday after the salt laden Thanksgiving holiday, everyone needs to see a cardiologist. Your top 5 are swamped, you do have 5 others who have basic training and can provide back up scheduling, but the system isn’t sophisticated enough to handle second wave levels of competency. Having an advanced system, the appropriate set up, and management expertise, is foundational for advanced patient access centers.
- Provider Matching: Most organizations have provider matching technology to support their website “Find a Doc”. Unfortunately, it tends to be fraught with two challenges. First, organizations often are not rigorous about their definitions nor their updating process. For example, everyone including primary care, rheumatology, physiatry, physical therapy, neurology, neurosurgery, and orthopedics care for back pain. How is a patient or call center staff supposed to know who is the right provider for a given patient with such broad definitional categories? Second, systems are often less sophisticated than expected and do not support decision trees nor subcategories. To complicate matters, providers are both competitive and demanding. They want to understand the organization’s approach to selecting which patients are scheduled with providers and expect accuracy. Therefore, clear governance, protocols, and review processes are critical for success, in addition to the technology.
- Work Force Management: While we all know that Monday mornings are a peak time as well as the Tuesday after a long weekend, is your call center director manually planning daily staffing needs? What are the peaks and valleys of scheduling, registration, referrals, financial counselling, etc? Do you know precisely how many staff you need when? Or, do you have someone manually assigned to watch the call volumes and shift calls to those staff less busy? As your call center grows, it will become vital to deploy a Work Force Management solution. In the long run this can save money by appropriately staffing, avoiding overtime and maximizing productivity of all staff.
- Call Back Assist: We’ve all experienced this in other industries. Once the queue gets to a certain anticipated wait time, the caller is offered the opportunity to receive a call back and not lose their place in line. The caller can go on with their lives less frustrated by the long queue and the call center staff does not need to manually perform the call backs. This only works if the call center is not completely overwhelmed and the volume of calls each day is manageable. It helps to load level, but not does not provide additional capacity.
- Outbound Call Campaign: How does your organization handle those patients whose provider has requested a referral, a return visit, or needs to reschedule their session? Patients often need to be contacted, while most basic call centers are designed for inbound calling. Automated outbound calling provides an excellent solution to balance out work during the afternoons and later in the week when call volume is lighter.
- Document/Referral Management: Is your fax machine stacked with referral request faxes and patient notes? Are you aware that in most organizations half of those faxed referrals do not result in a completed visit? Is your compliance officer cringing at the PHI stacked in piles for all to see? Does your referral team start at the top or the bottom of the faxes? Are they manually logging and then scanning in all the documents? Automated document and referral systems which integrate into the EHR can dramatically reduce risk, work and increase your ability to schedule referred patients.
- Multi-Channel Communication: While the typical call center is initially set up for phone calls, we know that most industries are providing options to customers for their preferred way of interacting, whether it is text, email, chat, or phone, as well as synchronous or asynchronous options. Meeting patient communication preferences has become the new foundational expectation.
- Customer Relationship Management: CRM and Computer Telephony integration provides numerous opportunities for organizations to target their patient population. Everything from population health management, to allowing contact center staff to document directly into a patient record, as well as help ensure the patient is scheduled appropriately are all supported by CRM.
- Interactive Voice Recognition (IVR): How long is your recorded decision tree? Often up to 60 seconds or more. While we prefer a phone answered live, we all dislike multiple press x for y. Allowing patients to state their need during the call can improve accuracy, timelines, and improve the patient experience.
- Quality Management System: While most telephony systems support quality recordings and ability to “listen in”, there are advanced systems that can support an objective rating of the calls as well as screen shot captures. This eliminates some of the bias of supervisors and supports a higher level of quality control while reducing labor costs for quality control.
- Self Service Options: Along with multi-channel communications options, many patients want the ability to communicate, schedule, and register at their own convenience without speaking to an individual. However, most organizations are disappointed with their patient portal usage. To truly meet patient expectations, organizations must provide robust patient self-service options, which requires significant organization commitment and provider engagement.
How well did you score? If you have 8+, then we hope you are sharing your success and teaching others. If you only have a few, or your systems aren’t meeting your needs, it may be time to reflect on the service you are providing your patients and explore whether maximizing your current systems or adding additional features will help you meet your goals.