By Matt Everly
The call center in a healthcare organization preforms a variety of important functions. One is serving as a virtual lobby when processing internal and external calls. It may be the initial touchpoint a patient has with the organization, so the experience must be positive. As the saying goes, “You only have one opportunity to make a first impression.” The call center also serves as the nerve center for ongoing communications.
Modern healthcare call centers need to handle all types of calls quickly and efficiently. To ensure that the virtual lobby experience is positive, the call center agents need immediate access to accurate data. To accomplish this, information systems need to share, pass, and store usable data from system to system. Interoperability is a term used in healthcare to describe the idea of different technologies and systems communicating to share data.
To handle calls effectively, the call center system needs to use data that may reside in external databases on other systems. As an example, if a caller wants to talk to an admitted patient, the agent needs to know which room to send the call to. Most patient admission, discharge, and transfer (ADT) information resides in a database that is external to the call center system.
Without interoperability, the agent would have to bring up a second screen to view the ADT information, go back to the call center system screen, manually enter the room extension, and transfer the call. With interoperability, the call center system can automatically download the ADT information from the external database and present it to the agent on the call center screen, thus eliminating several steps and decreasing the chance of error. Interoperability works behind the scenes to automate data exchanges and sharing.
Making sure the hospital call center is interoperable with other systems is the safe way to make sure call center agents communicate with callers in a timely and effective manner. A few of the important IT systems and technologies that should be interoperable within the healthcare call center system include:
- Electronic health records (EHR)
- Messaging applications (paging and secure messaging apps)
- Alarms and monitoring systems
- Nurse call systems
- Scheduling systems
Many healthcare call centers routinely use outdated technology. Binders with paper call schedules, non-PC-based PBX consoles, fax machines, data access terminals, and sticky notes are used by agents to access the information they need to handle calls. These makeshift solutions lead to inefficiency and mistakes.
Interoperability Works Both Ways: Hospital call center systems store information as administrators and agents input data or create schedules. This information may be valuable to other departments or used to augment an external document.
As an example, when an agent takes a message from a patient for a clinician, that message can be automatically sent to the EHR system and be posted to that patient’s individual electronic health record. By using interoperability, information from numerous databases can be combined in one area to form a master record for a particular patient.
Not All Systems Allow Interoperability: Legacy systems and technologies were not designed with data exchange in mind. There are several ways to connect IT systems to the healthcare organization’s larger digital ecosystem, but these can be costly and potentially unreliable.
Health Level Seven (HL7) is a set of standards used to transfer clinical and administrative data between software applications. Many present-day IT developers design products with HL7 in mind, helping organizations move toward interoperability throughout the enterprise. The healthcare call center can use HL7 to populate patient, clinician, and employee directories for agents. HL7 also can be used as a way to post information from the call center system to a patient’s EHR.
Reducing Costs: Interoperability will make your call center agents more efficient, eliminate mistakes, and reduce costs by automating processes that are currently handled manually. As healthcare providers look to reduce expenses, interoperability in the call center is a natural solution.
Matt Everly is the marketing director for Amtelco’s 1Call healthcare division. Matt has worked at Amtelco for over twenty years and has held numerous positions, including southeast regional sales manager, executive suite market development, and marketing manager.