By Allison Hart
From clinical process enhancements to facility improvements, there are many ways to drive better healthcare experiences for patients. One key area is call center optimization. More than one in three healthcare providers say their organization is updating their contact center or has plans to do so in the near future. Making call center upgrades doesn’t have to be difficult to have an impact. Healthcare teams just need to know what patients want and expect when they call.
Are patients frustrated by having to wait on hold? Are they satisfied with the interactions they have with call center agents? West surveyed 1,036 adults and healthcare providers in the United States to find out and identify ways healthcare organizations can provide better experiences for patients calling contact centers.
Survey responses confirmed that patients want calls resolved quickly and easily with minimal transfers and holds. Many will use self-service features, but they expect live agent availability to answer questions and make recommendations based on their individual medical data and needs.
The following recommendations—which are driven by this survey data—show five call center improvements patients want healthcare organizations to prioritize.
1. Eliminate Extra Steps During Calls
Patients are frustrated by how often their calls are redirected. Callers want to reach a resolution in the fewest possible steps, but they’re often transferred multiple times and asked to restate information to several people during a single call. According to providers, more than one-third (35 percent) of patient calls are redirected at least once.
To create a better experience for callers, healthcare teams can make call center improvements that enable them to route calls to the correct place on the first try. For example, hospitals and health systems can adopt intelligent call routing software with speech recognition features so callers can specify what they need and who they want to speak with. Healthcare organizations can also interconnect their phone systems so calls can be transferred anywhere within their organization. This saves staff from having to ask patients to hang up and dial a different number to reach a different department.
2. Create a Single Point of Contact
Some patients struggle even before they pick up the phone because they don’t know which number to call or who they need to speak with. Dialing the wrong number can lead to confusion and frustration for both patients and staff, as well as making calls last longer than necessary. Nearly three in five of those surveyed (59 percent) say they have trouble understanding which phone number to use to contact their healthcare provider. More troubling is the fact that 28 percent of patients have called their healthcare team and been unable to reach the correct person or department.
Eight in ten Americans (80 percent) want to be able to call a single person dedicated to their health. Hospitals and health systems can give callers a better experience by upgrading to a centralized phone system and routing all calls through one main line. Doing this relieves patients from navigating complex call structures. It gives them one clear point of entry with one phone number they can call to reach anyone within an organization—whether they know who they are looking for or not.
3. Minimize On-Hold Time
Americans don’t like waiting on hold, and many patients feel they do too much of it when they call healthcare organizations. Fifty-three percent of patients report having been put on hold for a long period of time or without a callback option. Providers may be underestimating how much patients are bothered by having to wait and how much time patients spend on hold. Only 29 percent of healthcare providers think patients who call their office are put on hold for an excessive amount of time, confirming a disconnect between what patients and providers deem as an acceptable wait time.
To ensure that patients feel their time is valued, healthcare organizations can take steps to reduce the amount of time patients spend on hold. For example, hospitals and health systems can give patients the option of receiving a callback so they spend less time waiting on the phone. This shows that providers respect patients’ time, and it lets patients choose whether they want to wait to speak with a healthcare professional.
4. Equip Staff with Patient Medical Information
Patients want to feel known by their healthcare team. They want staff members to have knowledge of their health history and be able to answer questions and make recommendations. Unfortunately, 63 percent of patients say the person they reach when they call their provider doesn’t have access to their medical information and therefore can’t provide personalized recommendations. In addition, nearly one-quarter (24 percent) of callers say they haven’t been able to get their questions answered during calls.
To ensure that patients get the help they need, healthcare organizations can make sure technology gives staff quick access to patient data. This will help them better support callers with tailored information. It also will reassure patients that their medical team understands them on an individual basis. Ideally, organizations will have their contact center technology connected to electronic health records, their patient web portal, and other systems that house patient information.
5. Offer Smart Self-Service Opportunities
Patients recognize that sometimes the simplest route to a resolution is through self-service. So, it’s not surprising that nearly six in ten patients (58 percent) say they want healthcare providers to offer self-serve options to complete actions such as paying bills and scheduling appointments. To get the most out of self-service technology, healthcare teams should make sure their system is configured to recognize when inbound calls are coming from phone numbers that have recently received automated outreach messages.
For example, if a provider sends an automated message to a patient with an invitation to schedule a preventive service or screening and the patient calls into the organization, the system should recognize the number and predict the caller’s intention. In this case, the system would ask the patient if he or she is calling to schedule an appointment and then walk the patient through the self-service scheduling process. By using smart technology and giving patients opportunities to resolve calls on their own, organizations can give callers better experiences.
Healthcare organizations put a lot of time and resources into designing top-notch patient experiences. It makes sense to have call center optimization be part of those efforts. By following these suggestions, healthcare teams can deliver on expectations and create better experiences for callers.
Allison Hart is an advocate for utilizing technology-enabled communications to engage and activate patients beyond the clinical setting. She leads thought leadership efforts for West’s TeleVox Solutions, promoting the idea that engaging with patients between healthcare appointments in meaningful ways will encourage and inspire them to follow and embrace treatment plans, and that activating these positive behaviors ultimately leads to better outcomes for both healthcare organizations and patients. Hart currently serves as vice president of marketing at West, where the healthcare mission is to help organizations harness communications to expand the boundaries of where, when, and how healthcare is delivered.