Tag Archives: Healthcare Call Center Articles

Use Telehealth to Extend Healthcare and Save Money



By Nicole Limpert 

The Health Resources Services Administration (HRSA) defines telehealth as “the use of electronic information and telecommunications technologies to support long-distance clinical health care, patient and professional health-related education, public health, and health administration. Technologies include videoconferencing, the internet, store-and-forward imaging, streaming media, and terrestrial and wireless communications.”

One of the most common forms of telehealth is a nurse hotline. Most U.S. health insurance companies offer a toll-free nurse advice hotline to their customers. Other types of telehealth services include virtual appointments, medical staff consults, remote health monitoring, and nonclinical services.

Removing Barriers to Healthcare

Telehealth not only makes access to healthcare easier for the public, it also has proven to be a necessity for both large organizations and niche markets.

Members of the United States military and their families are stationed all over the world. The Department of Defense’s (DOD) Military Health System (MHS) provides healthcare to more than 9.4 million people through a network of fifty-six hospitals, 365 clinics, and other facilities worldwide. Telehealth programs connect military patients to providers across the world to deliver direct access to quality healthcare, tele-radiology, and tele-pharmacy services.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is heavily involved with providing telehealth services to rural communities and administers telecommunications telehealth grants through two major programs: the DLT Program and the Community Connect Program. Similarly, the United States’ Indian Health Service uses telehealth to assist with accessing health services for American Indian and Alaska Native populations living in outlying communities.

Other isolated niche markets use technology to improve healthcare. Alaska’s maritime industry uses a telehealth platform to enhance access to care for those who work in the dangerous waters off Alaska. Internet connections are unreliable, so they primarily use a phone-based system to instantly connect with doctors. The Federal Bureau of Prisons (FBOP) uses telehealth to expand their internal healthcare program by consulting with external healthcare providers via collaborative practice agreements. 

Telehealth and Medical Call Centers

Regardless of where people are located, telehealth is a critical tool that brings the best possible care to patients. Medical call centers play a significant role by providing the technology and medical expertise needed to bring remote healthcare to patients.

Technology enables medical call centers to effectively become an extension of a hospital or medical center’s operation. The communication software used by medical call centers can securely access a patient’s electronic medical record (EMR), update EMRs with notes, and record calls needed for insurance claims and workers’ compensation. Because everything is documented, detailed reports can be generated for reporting purposes.

Medical call center operators can coordinate care, make follow-up calls, schedule visits, contact on-call medical staff, and manage referrals. Some healthcare call centers staff licensed medical professionals who are qualified to make health assessments, give medical advice, and escalate critical concerns.

The services provided by medical call centers are available twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Medical operators can work different hours and be located anywhere in the world, in any time zone. For example, if a medical center on the East Coast of the United States is closed, operators on the West Coast are still available.

Telehealth services may become more of a healthcare necessity rather than a convenience. Click To Tweet

Telehealth Benefits Hospitals

In the 2017 American College of Healthcare Executives’ (ACHE) annual survey, hospital CEOs ranked their ten biggest challenges for the year. Telehealth services can address six of these ten concerns—specifically, financial challenges (first), personnel shortages (third), quality of care (fourth), patient satisfaction (fifth), access to care (seventh), and population health management (ninth).

Multiple small- and large-scale studies cite the use of telehealth as a cost-effective method to deliver quality care, improve outcomes, enhance the patient experience, and expand access to healthcare. The patient’s experience with their healthcare team plays a critical role in their satisfaction. Patients are asked to provide information about their care experience via the Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS) survey. Unacceptable survey results can result in hospitals losing some reimbursements. In 2017 alone, approximately 1.7 billion dollars in reimbursements were withheld from hospitals. 

The cost savings are also passed along to patients. Call center data from Health Navigator cites that the top five reasons for calling a nurse hotline are fever, vomiting, stomach pain, cough, and head pain. Less than 10 percent of the cases were high-risk. On average, telehealth appointments for nonemergency reasons cost approximately forty-five dollars, as opposed to one hundred dollars for an in-person visit at a doctor’s office or 160 dollars at an urgent care clinic.

The Future of Telehealth

The population growth for the United States from 2008 to 2030, is estimated at 20 percent, totaling 363 million people. This spike in population will exacerbate an already strained shortage of healthcare professionals. Telehealth services may become more of a healthcare necessity rather than a convenience.

As technology advances, telehealth can become more complex by not only connecting patients with expertise in real time, but also by enabling computer-assisted medical procedures in remote locations by specialists thousands of miles away, thus creating global care teams for patients.

Amtelco

Nicole Limpert is the marketing content writer for Amtelco and their 1Call Healthcare Division. Amtelco is a leading provider of innovative communication applications. 1Call develops software solutions and applications designed for the specific needs of healthcare organizations.

Mitigating Medical Call Center Risk



By Traci Haynes

Does the word risk evoke an emotional connotation? Regardless of the inference and based on life experience, the word can carry an emotive element. There are uncertainties in risk, which may be associated with hobbies, tasks, or employment. 

Calculated risk is an action taken after careful consideration and estimation of the probable outcome. Healthcare organizations employ risk managers to identify and evaluate risks to reduce injury to patients, staff, and visitors within the organization. 

The five basic steps of risk management include: 

  1. Establish the context.
  2. Identify risks.
  3. Analyze risks.
  4. Evaluate risks.
  5. Treat/manage risks.

Risks exist in a medical call center too. There are employee risks and patient risks. These can include risks from the physical environment, clinical management, and technology. What can organizations do to help mitigate these risks? They can strive to be calculative, carefully considering and estimating probable outcomes. Even doing so, however, will not eliminate all risk.

A medical call center’s number-one asset is its staff. Click To Tweet

Risk Resource

An excellent resource that covers information on risk is The Art and Science of Telephone Triage: How to Practice Nursing over the Phone. It is a book written by two industry leaders in the field of telehealth nursing practice, Carol Rutenberg, RN-BC, C-TNP, MNSc, and M. Elizabeth Greenberg, RN-BC, C-TNP, PhD. The book also documents the history of telephone triage and its subsequent evolution, provides real-case scenarios, and contains chapters onFAQs, best practices, and other topics. 

Minimizing risk is essential in the medical call center environment. Consider your potential for risk. Then analyze, evaluate, and manage it. Also essential is focusing on ways the medical call center can support the organization’s risk avoidance. Of utmost importance to every organization is supporting the Institute for Healthcare Improvement’s Triple Aim initiative and optimizing health system performance of better outcomes, lower costs, and improved patient experience. 

Hospitals throughout the country are aggressively tackling performance improvement within their own organizations, and evidence shows their efforts are helping to reduce risk. The recent addition of a fourth aim emphasizes the importance of improving the experiences of those in the workforce who provide healthcare. The Quadruple Aim focuses not only on better outcomes, lower costs, and improved patient experience, but also on improved clinician experience. 

A medical call center’s number-one asset is its staff. Employees need to feel recognized for the work they do. Their working environment should encourage respect and foster a sense of belonging and purpose. They should have the ability to influence their work, as well as be given opportunities for professional growth.

Medical Call Center Risks

Let’s drill down a little further on potential risks in a medical call center. Please note, this is not an all-inclusive list and not listed in order of importance. However, it is valuable information to consider. 

Clinical Management

  • Clinical oversight (such as the medical director): approval of clinical content, decision support tools, educational material, medications, and orders.
  • Job descriptions: title, clear description of work duties, purpose, special skills, and qualifications for the position
  • Scope of service: what type and for whom 
  • State Board of Nursing Nurse Practice Act: follow standards of practice
  • Licensure: state license, Nurse Licensure Compact 
  • Orientation/training/preceptor: defined program with monitoring, feedback, and evaluation
  • Policies and procedures: associated with call handling and call scenarios
  • Performance monitoring/evaluations: formal approach using call records and/or call recording
  • Continuous quality improvement: process to identify issues, implement/monitor corrective action, and evaluate the effectiveness

Technology 

  • Electronic Health Record (EHR): access and by whom
  • Computers: hardware/software, latest recommendations, updates, backup, and archiving
  • Database: decision-support tools and functionality for a standard method of documenting the encounter, optimizing the intake of information, and supporting a consistent approach to provision of information and directions for care; reporting of outcomes
  • Telephone system: supports call handling that may include auto-attendant, call routing, tracking average speed of answer, time in queue, abandonment; real-time monitoring, reports, and recording of calls
  • Chat/email/texts/photos: accept and save as part of EHR
  • HIPAA-compliant: protecting health information

Physical Environment

  • Outdoor surveillance monitoring
  • Lighting: internal measurement, general, task, emergency, external
  • Security locks: after-hours or 24/7
  • Parking: on-site, off-site, monitored, lighting
  • Security personnel: on-site, off-site
  • Sound: acoustics, masking, privacy 
  • Workstation ergonomics: standing/sitting, monitor height/distance, keyboard/mouse position, adjustable chair with height/arm and height/back support, headset, and so forth. 
  • Repetitive stress injuries: most commonly affects injuries to the upper extremities (wrists, elbows, and hands) due to repetitive keyboard activities

Patients and Families

  • Medical call center access: 24/7, after-hours, business hours, community service, or provider/payer service
  • Reason for call: emergent, urgent, semi-urgent, and nonurgent
  • Language and culture: linguistically and culturally appropriate and using an individual’s primary language
  • Age-specific or all age groups
  • Social determinants of health: influences an individual’s quality of health
  • Past medical history: health status prior to encounter and effect on the reason for call/disposition
  • Chronic conditions: type, number, effect on the reason for call/disposition
  • Medications: routine, PRN, effect on the reason for call/disposition
  • Preventive health: effect on overall health
  • Disabilities: type, effect on reason for call/disposition
  • Disposition: collaborative decision, access for care as needed

Addressing risk potential in medical call centers will benefit all stakeholders and improve healthcare outcomes.

Traci Haynes, MSN, RN, BA, CEN, CCCTM, is the director of clinical services at LVM.

How Telephone Triage Call Centers Can Help Reduce Physician Burnout



By Shannon Bays-Crockett

When studying worrisome symptoms among physicians and mental health workers in the 1970s, Herbert Freudenberger, a German-American psychologist, coined the term burnout. HHS described professional burnout in 2017 as an occupational hazard that could lead to high-quality healthcare professionals leaving the practice of medicine. By 2017, physicians reporting frequent or constant feelings of burnout totaled 51 percent—up from 40 percent in 2013.

The Center for Treatment of Anxiety and Mood Disorders reports that physician burnout is growing in the United States. One in three physicians experience physician burnout at some point in time. Compared to other professions, physicians are fifteen times more likely to experience burnout. About 45 percent of physicians report that they would quit the profession if it weren’t for the money. Approximately 400 physicians commit suicide each year. Those numbers emphasize the need to quickly address the burnout issue.

Physician burnout symptoms seem to mirror indications of other stress disorders, but there are also distinct differences. Dr. Dike Drummond, author of the blog The Happy MD, talks about physician burnout in his article “Physician Burnout and the Four Phases of Compassion Fatigue” (blog post #297) when he says, “Losing the ability to feel empathy, sympathy, and compassion for your patients is a constant risk for all of us.” 

Nurse triage call centers help physicians achieve work/life balance by reducing or eliminating after-hours and on-call requirements. Click To Tweet

Physician burnout symptoms might include:

  • Physical and emotional exhaustion that leaves physicians worn out and unable to recover during downtime
  • The development of a cynical and negative attitude regarding work and patients
  • A reduced sense of purpose along with a feeling that what they’re doing has little to no meaning or value

Ashley Altus, a writer for The DO, the online publication of the American Osteopathic Association (AOA), reported on Dr. Octavia Cannon’s talk to the January 25, 2018, AOA LEAD (Leadership, Education, Advocacy & Development) Conference in Austin, Texas. Dr. Cannon challenged physicians to instruct students and residents about the importance of life outside of medicine. “Encourage them to take time for themselves,” Dr. Cannon said. 

Dr. Cannon continued to discuss how stress for young physicians is at its peak during training in medical school and residency, citing Medscape’s 2018 National Physician Burnout and Depression Report in which data suggested that 42 percent of physicians reported symptoms of burnout. 

Addressing Physician Burnout 

Imagine the pediatrician attending a daughter’s dance recital or a son’s football game when the phone rings. The caller is the worried parent of a child who is spiking a fever. The physician is torn away from the family activity to advise the child’s parent. The doctor becomes frustrated by missing his own child’s big moment in the spotlight and can’t get that back. Somebody loses out, and the choice between duty, frustration, and guilt is not an easy decision. 

Healthcare Call Centers

One popular solution—after-hours telephone triage—works well to both address physician concerns and serve the needs of anxious patients. Nurse triage call centers help physicians achieve work/life balance by reducing or eliminating after-hours and on-call requirements by offering patients telephone access to advice that is based on guidelines established according to preferences of each provider’s practice. All patient calls are triaged using evidence-based guidelines and are directed to the appropriate level of care. All call records are forwarded directly to the patient’s care provider so they are available the next business day.

By partnering with accredited health call centers for after-hours telephone triage, providers can enjoy their professional as well as their private lives. Other benefits of after-hours nurse triage are reflected in improved physician recruitment and retention and a more satisfying patient/physician encounter when the physician is rested and refreshed. 

Shannon Bays-Crockett is a strategic communications specialist with AccessNurse.

Cyber Security and HIPAA in a Medical Contact Center


Startel, Professional Teledata, Alston Tascom

By Bobby Bennett

Regardless of size, medical contact centers must take steps to protect against cyberattacks and ensure HIPAA compliance. These two issues warrant intentional and proactive attention.

Ways to Prevent Cyberattacks

With cyberattacks on the rise, what steps should a contact center take to prevent falling victim? The first is to recognize that it could happen to anyone. Do not equate small with safe. According to a 2017 Trend Micro online survey, 45 percent of small business owners believe they will never be targeted. The cyber security firm 4iQ states in its 2019 Identity Breach Report that cybercriminals targeted small businesses with cyberattacks at an inordinate rate in 2018—up 425 percent over the previous year. Here are some ways to prevent such an attack: 

  • Install, use, and regularly update antivirus and anti-spyware software on every computer used in your business.
  • Use a firewall for your internet connection.
  • Download and install software updates for your operating systems and applications as they become available.
  • Make backup copies of important business data and information.
  • Control physical access to your computers and network components.
  • Secure your Wi-Fi network and make sure it is hidden.
  • Require individual user accounts for each employee.
  • Limit employee access to data and information. Also limit authority to install the software.
  • Regularly change passwords.
  • Consider two-factor authentication such as a password and a PIN.

The Federal Communications Commission provides a Small Biz Cyber Security Planner on their website. 

A business associate is also liable and subject to civil and criminal penalties for making uses and disclosures of PHI not authorized by its contract or required by law. Click To Tweet

HIPAA and Protected Health Information

Another factor to be mindful of as a call center that takes calls for healthcare providers and clinics is that you are a business associate of the covered entity. A HIPAA business associate is a contractor or vendor to a HIPAA-covered entity that creates, maintains, or transmits protected health information in performing a function or service to the covered entity.

If a covered entity engages a business associate to help it carry out its health care activities and functions, the covered entity must have a written business associate contract or other arrangement with the business associate that establishes specifically what the business associate has been engaged to do and requires the business associate to comply with the [HIPAA] Rules’ requirements to protect the privacy and security of protected health information. In addition to these contractual obligations, business associates are liable for compliance with certain provisions of the HIPAA Rules. (HHS.Gov)

A business associate contract serves to clarify and limit, as appropriate, the permissible uses and disclosures of protected health information (PHI) by the business associate. They may use or disclose PHI only as permitted or required by its business associate contract or as required by law. 

A business associate is also liable and subject to civil and criminal penalties for making uses and disclosures of PHI not authorized by its contract or required by law. It is important that employees are trained and understand the HIPAA rules required of a business associate. You can find sample Business Associate Agreement Provisions and training resources on the HHS.gov website.

Text messaging (SMS) has become the preferred method of message delivery for both the contact center and healthcare providers. With this growing trend comes the risk associated with the transmission of PHI. 

Standard forms of SMS could mean that text messages may remain on a device for an extended time. If the device is recycled, lost, or left accessible to unauthorized persons, HIPAA violations may occur. You must provide safeguards to reduce your exposure to these risks. 

Secure messaging is a HIPAA-compliant way to safely exchange sensitive information via text. Most contact center system vendors have developed secure messaging applications for use with their systems. However, quite often it is difficult for a contact center to convince a large medical group to make changes and convert from their current secure messaging provider to one offered by the contact center. 

Conclusion

Don’t ignore the risks of cyberattacks and HIPAA-noncompliance in your medical contact center. Take essential steps today to reduce bigger problems tomorrow. 

Startel

Bobby Bennett is the western regional sales manager for Startel, Professional Teledata, and Alston Tascom, leading providers of best-in-class contact center solutions for healthcare and medical telephone answering service call centers. Startel’s Alston Tascom Division has created a stand-alone, vendor-agnostic secure messaging gateway that has integrations with some of the most popular secure messaging providers. Contact Bobby at bobby.bennett@startel.com or 800-782-7835. 

Balancing Patient Care with Data Security and Privacy



The stakes have never been higher for healthcare providers to deliver a positive patient experience. According to a recent study by Prophet, 81 percent of consumers are unsatisfied with their healthcare experience, while only 40 percent believe providers are best meeting their needs. At the same time, data breaches in the healthcare sector are at an all-time high, occurring at a rate of more than one per day in the United States.

These security incidents not only jeopardize patients’ privacy but also put both patient trust and brand reputation at risk.

All the while, medical practitioners, hospitals, and insurers are pressed to keep up with the ever-evolving regulatory compliance landscape. This not only includes the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) but also the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS), the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), and a long list of individual state regulations and data breach notification laws.

With HIPAA violations alone incurring fines as high as 50,000 dollars (for each violation or exposed record), healthcare organizations are finding themselves wedged between conflicting objectives: How do you protect patient data and maintain compliance without losing sight of providing the best possible patient experience? 

Contact Center Security

While you can’t please every patient, you can strike a balance between care and data security. The first place to address this is the contact center.

Patients have full control over inputting their information and can enjoy peace of mind that their data is protected. Click To Tweet

Although online interaction tools and patient portals are gaining in popularity, you can’t underestimate the value of the voice channel. Research by PatientPop shows that 58.5 percent of patients still prefer to schedule an appointment via phone.

As such, your contact center is often the go-to point of interaction for your patients and can set the tone for their entire experience. But this also means that your contact center intrinsically holds, processes, and stores copious amounts of personally identifiable information (PII), from medical records to payment card data. This makes the contact center an alluring target for fraudsters and hackers.

However, it’s not only devious cybercriminals who threaten your patients’ data. Company insiders, such as rogue call center service representatives or contact center agents, pose a massive threat, especially if they have access to patient data given over the phone or stored in desktop applications. In fact, 58 percent of all healthcare data breaches and security incidents are the result of insiders, according to Verizon’s Protected Health Information Data Breach Report.

Security Best Practices

With inside and outside threats, as well as vulnerable legacy systems serving as entry points for enterprise-wide breach incidents, contact centers are undoubtedly a weak link in your security chain. But protecting PII, maintaining compliance, and providing a positive patient experience first involve a hearty dose of security best practices:

  • Treat all data as potentially toxic. The more information that is available in the event of a breach, the easier it will be for a malicious insider or cybercriminal to steal a patient’s identity or access their private medical records.
  • Train all employees and always perform thorough background checks. Go beyond basic employee vetting and background checks, especially when hiring for your contact center environments. Educate staff and agents on data security best practices and on how to spot social engineering and phishing tactics.
  • Prepare your response management policy. Have an incident response management policy and process in place, preferably as part of an information security management system. Prepare for a worst-case scenario and assess your incident response plan at least annually.
  • Tokenize data. Replace PII with a meaningless equivalent, so even if a breach is successful, the hacked data will be of no value to the cybercriminal. This approach can also assist in the event of a social engineering attack, which can put even the most trustworthy employee at risk for exposing PII.
  • Enforce the principle of least privilege. Give employees the minimum level of access required to perform their job function at the appropriate time. Introduce exception procedures for when emergency access is needed.
  • Authenticate the user to authenticate the service agent. Prevent agents from accessing patient data until they have received the right data from the user. This means that until the caller has been successfully identified using the appropriate secure authentication approach, access to detailed PII will be denied.

Descoping Technologies

With these tactics creating a foundation for security in your contact center, you can introduce descoping technologies. Such technologies not only strengthen data security and compliance by removing sensitive data from your infrastructure, but they also garner a positive patient experience and journey.

For the voice channel dual-tone multifrequency (DTMF), masking solutions hold great promise, allowing patients to discretely enter numerical PHI—such as payment card, insurance, or account numbers—using their phone’s keypad. The keypad tones, however, are masked with flat tones, so they are not exposed to anyone but the patient. The data collected is encrypted and sent to a compliant third party, bypassing the contact center’s environment completely.

While this process may invoke notions of automated interactive voice response (IVR) systems, it is not the same. Here, agents can remain on the line in full voice communication with the patient, guiding them through the transaction, answering questions, and even handling wrap-up tasks. There are no challenges with misheard or mis-keyed data, which can lead to premature hang-ups and abandoned calls. In addition, patients have full control over inputting their information and can enjoy peace of mind that their data is protected. This makes for a better overall customer experience.

Conclusion

Data security and privacy are key to providing positive interactions with your customers and patients, and there is no longer any need to compromise in either area. A combination of security best practices, strategies, and emerging descoping technologies are ideal solutions to achieve both. No matter which route you take, the less PII you hold and handle, the better off you’ll be. Remember, no one can hack the data you don’t have.

This article is provided by Semafone, a leading provider of data security and compliance solutions for call and contact centers. Learn more at Semafone or contact Rebecca.Rowe@semafone.com.

Reduce Physician Burnout with Telephone Triage Nurses



By Dr. Ravi Raheja

Physicians today are experiencing more demands on their already busy schedules, and it’s taking a toll on their personal health and professional accuracy. According to recent studies, more than half of physicians report burnout, which is defined as a loss of enthusiasm for work, feelings of cynicism, and a low sense of personal accomplishment. However, establishing a telephone nurse triage service for patients can alleviate some of this stress and exhaustion.

Effects of Physician Burnout

While job burnout is a serious issue, it can produce critical circumstances when it involves a physician. Reports claim that doctors experiencing burnout have higher levels of divorce, depression, alcohol and drug addiction, and even suicide.
Additionally, physicians experiencing burnout have lower levels of clinical care quality and patient satisfaction and higher levels of medical errors and malpractice risk. Medical errors are estimated to be the number three cause of death in the United States, and annual costs for medical mistakes are estimated to be between 17 and 30 billion dollars. The US healthcare system cannot afford the financial effects of physician burnout.

Better Work-Life Balance

When a physician is on call after office hours or during the weekend, they often receive patient calls that interrupt personal time with their family or getting much-needed rest. It would be easier to manage if these calls were rare, but the reality is that patients need access to healthcare professionals 24/7 to avoid unnecessary ER visits. Many of these patient calls regularly result in advice that could have been given by a nurse.

Technology can help minimize the burden. Utilizing telephone nurse triage, physicians can ensure that patients are receiving prompt, quality care based on standardized protocols combined with custom orders. As a result, many physicians who use telephone nurse triage find that their phone doesn’t ring as often after hours, they are able to spend more time focusing on their patients during office visits, and they can be confident that everything is properly recorded in the computer for efficient billing.

Telephone nurse triage provides a flexibility that allows physicians to adjust their schedule more easily to create a better work-life balance and avoid burnout. Click To Tweet

Conclusion

There is no single solution to eliminate physician burnout. Providing work-life balance education early in their careers and offering continuing education and assistance for stress management can help many doctors. Additionally, telephone nurse triage provides a flexibility that allows physicians to adjust their schedule more easily to create a better work-life balance and avoid burnout.

Dr. Ravi Raheja is the medical director at TriageLogic, which is a leader in telehealth technology and services. The company’s goal is to improve access to healthcare and reduce costs by developing technology for providers and patients, backed by high-quality nurses and doctors. The TriageLogic group serves over nine thousand physicians and covers over 18 million lives nationwide. [This article first appeared in AnswerStat.]

Five Tips for Hospitals When Purchasing a Secure Messaging App



By Tom Curtin

Hospital communication systems are complex. Yet many hospitals select one communications method—secure messaging—in the hope that a texting solution or an app is going to be their panacea.

When hospital staff research communications companies in the healthcare space, they may not realize that while these businesses offer texting products, that is all they offer. Having just that one part of a communication solution, which involves systems and software from other departments, will not support what hospital care teams need to deliver a great patient experience.

The goal of every hospital is to provide the best care in the most efficient way possible to their patients. Having a secure messaging app is important, but it is only part of an effective communication protocol. It is paramount for hospitals to have a holistic communication platform so that a secure messaging app can access EHR, integrate with other communication systems, and take advantage of known data to provide reports.

Hospital medical and IT staff should consider the following five key questions before selecting a secure messaging app.

1. Deliverability

Will the app deliver messages to the right people, at the right time? Be certain the app can integrate with your hospital’s on-call schedules. Everyone needs to be able to find the staff or care team they need in an instant and contact each person how they prefer.

2. Integration

Is it easy to integrate the app with multiple systems? Do your patient room systems, as well as your EHR, communicate with your care teams? Then your app should too. Does the app support API integration to your nurse call and alarm systems so it can send critical messages to the right staff? Maintaining multiple systems takes multiple people, which leads to working in silos. Therefore, the app needs to provide simple architecture so it’s easy to implement and maintain.

3. Ease of Use

Is the app easy to use? The app should have features that are easy to use so training is fast and simple. Losing time spent on training takes away from patient care.

4. Manageability

Can staff easily manage the app? What happens when hospital staff must add or remove users? How are app updates and new releases handled? Does the company offer reliable customer support and troubleshooting help? Providing care for patients happens twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Hospital staff should be able to rely on customer support for the app 24/7 as well.

5. Workflow Impact

Does the app improve workflows? Hospital staff use multiple communication tools, and they don’t need another tool that provides the same functions as other devices already in use. The app should integrate seamlessly with existing hospital systems, save staff time, enhance the patient experience, improve clinical communications, and support reporting functions.

Conclusion

A stand-alone secure messaging app, or messaging app company, will not be able to address all the communication pain points within a hospital. However, when used in combination with communications solutions that offer scripting, directories, on-call scheduling, emergency notifications, and other web-based applications, a secure mobile messaging app used by medical staff will help patients in the most timely way. This gives the patient the best service possible.

Amtelco

Tom Curtin is the president of Amtelco and their 1Call Healthcare Division. Amtelco is a leading provider of innovative communication applications. They develop software solutions and applications designed for the specific needs of healthcare organizations.[This article first appeared in AnswerStat]

Vendor Profile – Startel


Startel, Professional Teledata, Alston Tascom

The Unification: Startel, Professional Teledata, and Alston Tascom

It was only two years ago when three companies with long, rich histories in the evolution of software for telephone answering services were united. Startel and Alston Tascom’s resumes go back to 1980, while Professional Teledata started in 1983.

Since the merger in September 2017, Startel, Professional Teledata (PTD), and Alston Tascom (Tascom) have expanded their product offerings and expertise. Here’s a look at some of their latest innovations.

Secure Messaging Gateway Powered by Startel

As messaging technology has grown and evolved, healthcare organizations have been presented with many secure messaging applications from a wide variety of providers. In some cases, a single organization may have multiple platforms used in various departments and locations.

The secure messaging gateway, powered by Startel, allows users to send and receive electronic protected healthcare information, or ePHI, to the most popular messaging providers—OnPage, TigerConnect, DocbookMD, Twistle, Mediprocity, DocHalo, pMD, HipLink, Telnyx, Imprivata, TelmedIQfrom one HIPAA-compliant application.

Startel's Secure Messaging Plus allows users to send and receive electronic protected healthcare information, or ePHI, to the most popular messaging providers. Click To Tweet

Secure Messaging Plus 

In today’s mobile and fast-paced world, the use of secure messaging applications has become the preferred channel of communication among business and institutional professionals as well as technicians in the field. It’s quicker, more efficient, and less invasive than a phone call. Because of that, Startel offers Secure Messaging Plus.

Accessible from the web or an application downloaded to one’s smartphone or tablet, Secure Messaging Plus (SM+) offers a secure, HIPAA-compliant way to safely exchange sensitive information via text. Users experience all the benefits of texting, but in a secure manner and environment. With Secure Messaging Plus, users can:

  • Maintain compliance: Stay HIPAA, GLBA, and SOX-compliant with messages and attachments that are encrypted in transit and at rest on devices using SM+ as well as on the servers which house the content prior to expiration. Startel also undergoes an extensive annual HIPAA audit to ensure it has met or exceeded compliance standards.
  • Control message expiration: Set messages to expire at a predetermined time or when marked as read or filed. Messages that do not have a defined expiration will expire within the originating subscriber’s default number of days, not to exceed thirty. This feature offers users an additional layer of security.
  • Send attachments: Securely send and receive attachments such as voice recordings, audio, and image attachments for better collaboration with colleagues. This is a key feature for physicians and staff to consult on patient files.
  • Track message status: Subscribers can know when a message from their device has been sent, viewed, read, and filed. Using SM+ in conjunction with the Startel CMC, messages and their content are fully tracked, archived, and encrypted. Administrative personnel can generate real-time reports based on several criteria, including duration of time and subscriber use.
  • Forwarding of messages: Prior to sending a message, users can indicate which messages can be forwarded. Administrators can also enable certain accounts to not allow message forwarding.
  • Group response and messaging. When replying to a group message, users can choose to reply directly, either only to the sender or to the entire group.

Flex Agent Interface 

Startel took their agent interface to the next level with Flex AI (FAI). This new design allows agents to process calls easily and quickly by allowing them to move vital information where they need it. Designed with dockable windows, FAI allows agents to take full advantage of large and multiple monitors. 

Startel recognizes the continued need for simplicity and efficiency within their community. Classic AI will still be available in future CMC versions to support the needs of those call centers who choose not to transition to FAI.

SS 2.0 Deployment

The Startel softswitch routes calls based on skill level, queue priority, and user-defined scenarios. In addition, it also provides real-time status of contact center activity via the Startel dashboard. The softswitch resides on a Linux server and uses software to route calls, eliminating the hardware needed in legacy switches and creating a more reliable platform with fewer points of failure. The softswitch includes Startel’s embedded voicemail and voice logger solutions, eliminating the need for separate servers and expensive cards for integration.

In Startel Softswitch 2.0, a new call return feature allows callers to opt out of a queue and request a callback when an agent is available. Upon the request, a call is generated to wait in queue. When the agent answers, the agent is asked if they will accept the callback call. If accepted, the agent is connected to an outdial attempt to the number left by the caller. If the agent does not accept, the call goes to another agent.

The Startel softswitch is more reliable, because it uses servers with redundant drives and power supplies, and there are fewer points of failure. A second softswitch server provides redundancy and disaster recovery for the switch, voicemail, and voice logger, and it can even deploy at a second location, giving additional options to enhance business continuity.

The dashboard gives an organization a real-time view of traffic and SLAs via a PC on the network, a remote PC, a smartphone, a tablet or even a large flat-screen TV mounted in the contact center.

Organizations now capture more accounts by offering services that their competition cannot. The Startel softswitch uses open architecture software protocols, which enables companies to develop integrations into third-party software.

Secure web access to voicemail, voice logger, and system dial plan provides easy access for programming and enables remote diagnostics, soft fixes, and software uploads.

The Startel softswitch is a native SIP platform, enabling the integration of SIP-trunking and utilizing the latest VoIP protocols while also allowing the use of analog, T-1, and PRI circuits as well.

TBS Payment Portal

ThePaymentPortal.com is a hosted, online, secure e-commerce site where a company’s accounts can access statements, view invoices, and pay bills at their convenience. It is an optional feature for Professional Teledata’s accounts receivable billing system, Total Billing Solution 3 (TBS3). The system requirements to run ThePaymentPortal.com are:

• Total Billing Solution version 3.1

• Advantage Database Server version 11.1

• An updated TBS3 license, one for each database

• A USAePay account for each TBS3 database to collect payments online

The Customer Spot 

The Customer Spot (TCS) is the self-service customer portal where Startel, Professional Teledata, and Alston Tascom users can create new cases, track existing cases, access the knowledge base for relevant company and product resources, and stay up to date with company news and announcements

Custom Branded Resource 

Need some marketing materials to help grow your brand? Startel has created a variety of marketing materials that they will brand for customers to grow their contact center, call center, or telephone answering service. This is possible because Startel knows they are not just a vendor to their customers—they are a valued partner. Startel recognizes that their customer’s success is tantamount to their own success.

What’s Next? 

Startel

Stay tuned for Project Nova and more exciting innovations from Startel.

Three Tactics to Transform a Call Center into a Care Center



By Gina Tabone

Healthcare strategists must lead the campaign to transform call center agents into caregivers and move from a call center mentality to a care center functioning as the doorway to an organization. Medical call centers have evolved over the past decade from call centers to contact centers to the current title of centralized access center. The goal for the patient is a seamless connection to a call center agent equipped to resolve any need presented within the confines of the first call.

Agent positions are often entry-level, which they historically abandon once they are eligible to bid on a higher-paying, more prestigious role within the organization. What a shame that frontline call center employees do not realize the immense value they play in the continuum of care and their potential impact an exceptional patient experience.

Change, as usual, must happen. Here are three easy-to-implement tactics to begin transforming the mind-set of call center agents from telephone operator to a caregiver acknowledged as a vital contributor in the continuum of care.

1. Communication

Healthcare chatter and verbiage flood nightly news reports, political rhetoric, and patient newsletters. It’s hard enough for industry leaders to comprehend what’s being said and expected, let alone the people on the front line doing the work.

There is nothing more motivating than realizing that the work one does is meaningful and makes a difference. This is most true in the delivery of healthcare. No matter what the role, everyone interacting with a patient can contribute to a positive experience. Here’s how:

Every level of management is most effective when present and visible to those working on the phones. Click To Tweet
  • Messages must be clearly stated from the top-level leadership involved in the call center transformation. Be honest and frank. Leadership is supportive but must be mindful of the ever-present business impact of every department.
  • Tell agents: “You are very important to our organization, and your contribution to the organization is unique and essential.”
  • Think of the call center as the front door to the organization. Agents are the ones answering the knock at the door.
  • Agents have the power to communicate either “Hello, welcome; we are expecting you,” or slam the door in a patient’s face by being robotic, irritated, and impatient.

2. Collaboration 

Caregivers working in a centralized communication operation don’t have a group of patients specifically assigned to them. Rather, they are there to provide a plethora of services to the patients from a variety of locations, specialties, practices, providers, or payers. The role they play augments the meaningful care provided in an office or clinic setting. Efforts must focus on viewing the call center caregivers as a vital component of the outpatient team.

  • They are the first point of contact for new patients. They can convey compassion and trust in the initial interaction as a precursor of what to expect in a face-to-face visit with a clinician.
  • First point-of-contact caregivers set the tone for what to expect from the organization. Hopefully, they demonstrate a flawless, coordinated experience by being a knowledgeable person who has the skills and resources to satisfy their current need.
  • It is valuable for call center employees to spend a day with the clinic team and for the clinic staff to spend a day shadowing the call center caregiver. Bonds are forged, and there is an appreciation for the work each group performs.

3. Circulate 

Call center leadership is not a stationary job. Every level of management is most effective when present and visible to those working on the phones. The environment is dynamic and requires constant supervision and direction.

  • Seeing team leads, managers, and higher-ups walking around and interacting with staff builds confidence and is a sign they’re available when needs arise.
  • Wireless headsets allow for designated support staff to move about, mingle with agents, and overhear calls that may benefit from a higher level of intervention. It’s a defensive method for avoiding a potential problem—or even worse, a discontented patient.
  • Call center leaders who take live calls for a portion of their workweek can lead by example.
  • Circulating staff are there to advocate for the best possible patient experience, while at the same time nurturing and engaging the caregivers.

There is a need to develop a platform of soft skills training that teaches call center caregivers how to convey interest, concern, and competency to callers. These tactics are fantastic ways begin the transformation of a call center team into a care center team.

Gina Tabone, MSN, RNC-TNP, is the vice president of strategic clinical solutions at TeamHealth Medical Call Center. Prior to joining TeamHealth, she served as the administrator of Cleveland Clinic’s Nurse on Call 24/7 nurse triage program. 

[This article first appeared in AnswerStat, answerstat.com.]

Why Telephone Triage Nurses Are a Perfect Complement to Telemedicine



By Charu Raheja, PhD

Telehealth model

Telemedicine has been a medical buzzword for several years, and the variety and depth of services provided have grown dramatically during this time. There is little argume

nt that telemedicine is a great way to supplement traditional medical practices.

The advantages are clear: more convenient care for patients, more doctor availability, less driving time, and less waiting-room time. But like any new evolving field, there is still a learning curve and a need for developing a process that makes telemedicine viable and profitable and doesn’t require doctors to work 24/7 to meet patients’ requests.

One of the biggest hurdles for doctors is that their time with patients is limited. In a traditional office setting, nurses start the patient visit. Nurses take vitals, talk to patients, and evaluate their needs before a doctor walks in the room. The same type of process needs to be designed for telephone medicine, with the difference being that the nurse will do her job over telemedicine, just like the doctor.

Some practices have the nurses in their office taking patient calls and scheduling visits with a doctor. When managing these calls, the nurse needs to perform two tasks. First, the nurse must evaluate whether the patient actually needs the doctor or whether the nurse can help the patient over the phone with home care advice. Second, the nurse must document patient symptom information before making an appointment for the patient to speak with a doctor.

This is where having a good platform to document patient calls and ensure standard protocols comes in. This can ensure patient safety and help make the process efficient. Medical protocols—such as Dr. Schmitt and Dr. Thompson’s protocols—ensure a standard care process every time a nurse takes a call. These protocols are also available electronically, making them easier to use than textbooks. Electronic protocols can also allow the care advice to be documented directly on the patient chart for review by the physician during the telehealth visit.

However, not all doctors offering telehealth services have nurses available to answer patient calls when they first come in. An alternative for these doctors is hiring a telephone nurse triage service. This can serve as an extension of the office by providing patients with a trained nurse to evaluate patient symptoms and determine what actions to take.

Telephone nurse triage allows a practice’s telemedicine program to work seamlessly, whether the office is open or closed. Click To Tweet

What sets a high-quality telephone nurse triage service apart is the ability for the physician to have custom orders and preferences built into the system so the nurses can act as a true extension of the physician. A high-quality nurse triage service is also able to schedule patient appointments when necessary.

Providing patients with access to triage nurses can also be helpful for those doctors who don’t have the ability to provide telehealth services 24/7. If given the appropriate instructions, triage nurses are typically able to resolve over 50 percent of callers’ issues without the need of a doctor.

From a survey of over 35,000 patient phone calls, in over 50 percent of the cases, the nurses were able to resolve the caller’s medical symptoms by giving them home care advice. These nurses were also able to determine which callers required a physical visit to an urgent care or an ER in an event of an emergency (such as symptoms of a potential heart attack).

Telephone nurse triage allows a practice’s telemedicine program to work seamlessly, whether the office is open or closed. Setting up a nurse triage system where nurses use standardized protocols to answer patient questions increases the productivity and profits for a doctor’s practice.

When nurses use triage protocols, physicians can have confidence that they are asking the right questions and not missing anything. The basic patient information, the protocols used, and the nurse notes can also be used as a quick reference for the physician prior to the telehealth visit—similar to the notes doctors receive when their nurses first see a patient during a physical office visit.

Charu Raheja, PhD, is the CEO of TriageLogic a leading provider of quality, affordable triage solutions, including comprehensive after-hours medical call center software, daytime triage protocol software, and nurse triage on call. Customers include both institutional and private practices. If your hospital or practice is looking for information on setting up a nurse triage service, contact TriageLogic to get a quote or set up a demo.