Tag Archives: Healthcare Call Center Articles

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.

Why Hackers Target Medical Records Instead of Credit Cards


Amtelco-medical records

By Nicole Limpert

Despite the care most of us take to protect our credit card information, credit card fraud is the most common form of identity theft in the United States. According to a report from Javelin Strategy & Research, 15.4 million consumers were victims of identity theft or fraud in 2016, which cost US consumers more than 16 billion dollars.

However, cyber criminals increasingly target electronic protected health information (ePHI) because hackers can get a premium price for this personal information on the dark web.

Sold to the Highest Bidder

Raw credit card numbers—those that are missing PIN and user information—are worth a dollar or less each on the dark web. More complete credit card records that include personal information command a higher price—up to thirty dollars each, depending on the country of origin. However, the most valuable prize for fraudsters is someone’s medical record. Estimates vary, but in general health records consistently sell for seventy to ninety dollars each. Some hackers claim to sell blocks of thousands of records and receive over one hundred dollars per individual record.

Historically, healthcare data breaches were the result of internal staff actions (both accidental and intentional), but the Ponemon Institute’s Fifth Annual Benchmark Study on Privacy & Security of Healthcare Data in 2015 discovered that the primary reason for healthcare data breaches was due to criminal attacks.

The report states, “Employee negligence and lost or stolen devices still result in many data breaches, according to the findings. However, one of the trends we are seeing is a shift of data breaches—from accidental to intentional—as criminals are increasingly targeting and exploiting healthcare data.”

While the progress is slow, it appears that more hospitals are using ePHI and beginning to catch up with the technological needs to protect it. Click To Tweet

Why ePHI Is So Valuable

It is estimated that the global healthcare industry will be worth 8.7 trillion dollars by 2020. Cyber criminals are cashing in by using stolen patient data primarily for insurance fraud, medication fraud, and financial fraud.

The Identity Theft Resource Center, a US nonprofit that provides victim assistance and consumer education, reported there were 355 healthcare breaches in 2016 affecting 15 million records.

Information contained in a medical record is particularly useful for lucrative fraud schemes because it’s high-quality, deeply personal, and permanent. On the dark web, this type of data is referred to as “fullz” (full packages of personally identifiable information). Fullz can’t easily be replaced (the way credit card numbers can), so it is more useful and provides more value to criminals.

Because the information contained in a health record is complete and comprehensive, it’s extremely versatile, and it takes much longer for fraud to be detected. The information can be used in a variety of fraud scenarios.

Sometimes personal identities are stolen to receive medical care. The Ponemon Institute provides an example where a patient learned his identity was compromised after receiving invoices for a heart procedure he hadn’t undergone. His information was also used to buy a mobility scooter and medical equipment, amounting to tens of thousands of dollars in fraud.

Why Is ePHI So Vulnerable?

In response to increasing threats to patient health data and poor security, the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act was enacted in 2009. The act provided a 27 billion-dollar incentive to encourage health providers to switch from paper medical records to electronic files.

The results have been disappointing. Many healthcare organizations were slow to adopt electronic files because of struggles connecting different technologies. These disparate technologies need to work together so electronic health records (EHRs) are available to the appropriate staff.

When Barrack Obama was interviewed by Vox’s Ezra Klein and Sarah Kliff on January 6, 2017, he explained that this lack of interoperability was something he and his administration didn’t expect:

We put a big slug of money to encouraging everyone to digitalize and catch up with the rest of the world here. And it’s proven to be harder than we expected, partly because everyone has different systems. They don’t all talk to each other, it requires retraining people in how to use them effectively, and I’m optimistic that over time it’s inevitable it’s going to get better because every other part of our lives, it’s become paperless.

But it’s a lot slower than I would have expected; some of it has to do with the fact that it’s decentralized, and everyone has different systems. In some cases, you have economic incentives against making the system better; you have service providers—people make money on keeping people’s medical records—so making it easier for everyone to access medical records means that there’s some folks who could lose business. And that’s turned out to be more complicated than I expected.

As a result, hospitals and clinics have been operating, at least in part, with outdated technology, thus exposing them to the dangers of cyber-attacks.

Are Paper Medical Records Better?

It may be tempting to think that paper medical records are a safer option, but according to a recent study published in the American Journal of Managed Care, paper and films were the most frequent location of breached data.

Verizon’s 2018 Protected Health Information Data Breach Report also found that 27 percent of data breach incidents were related to sensitive data on paper. The Verizon report authors wrote:

Medical device hacking may be in the news, but it seems the real criminal activity is found by following the paper trail. Whether prescription information sent from clinics to pharmacies, billing statements issued by mail, discharge papers physically handed to patients, or filed copies of ID and insurance cards, printed documents are more prevalent in the healthcare sector than any other. The very nature of how PHI paperwork is handled and transferred by medical staff has led to preventable weaknesses—sensitive data being misdelivered (20 percent), thrown away without shredding (15 percent), and even lost (8 percent).

The Future of ePHI

While the progress is slow, it appears that more hospitals are using ePHI and beginning to catch up with the technological needs to protect it.

In 2017 the American Medical Informatics Association released a report using information from an American Hospital Association survey about hospital information technology. They measured “basic” and “comprehensive” EHR adoption among US hospitals and found that 80.5 percent of hospitals had at least a basic EHR system. Data breaches in the US healthcare field cost around six billion dollars annually. Even though the latest IBM Security/Ponemon Institute study found that, in the United States, healthcare data breach costs are higher than any other industry sector, the average cost per record is decreasing. The average data breach cost per record in the healthcare industry was 380 dollars in 2017, down from 402 dollars the year before.

Amtelco-medical records

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.

Seven Tips to Minimize Risk and Improve the Patient Experience



By Michael Dozier

According to Statista, the percentage of businesses worldwide using a call center in the Americas is 66 percent. However, according to the Global Contact Center satisfaction index, the level of caller satisfaction dropped five points from 2010 to 2018. Medical call centers are now looking for ways to improve patient experience, while minimizing risk. The goal of a call center typically includes:

  • Increasing patient satisfaction
  • Reducing readmission
  • Improving patient safety
  • Reducing missed appointments
  • Increasing patient retention
  • Increasing patient referrals
  • Resolving complaints and disputes
  • Increasing patient lifetime value

In general, tailor the medical call center to increasing the satisfaction of the individual patient and not just the efficiency of the call. In addition to patient satisfaction, there is an overall feeling that many call centers focus too much on efficiency when they need to focus on effectiveness.

Proper training is the key. Click To Tweet

Here are seven ways you can minimize risk in a medical call center.

1. Call Center Etiquette Matters

The need for proper etiquette is essential. This includes how agents answer calls, how they treat patients, and how well they address issues and questions.

2. Hire the Right People

Hiring experienced call center agents is critical to the success of any medical call center, as this will significantly reduce the likelihood for agent turnover as well as the costs incurred in training. When you hire the right people, agents will be able to achieve first call resolution, resolve disputes quickly and effectively, assure quality and security on every call, and reduce wait times.

3. Use the Right Technology

The technology that both your agents and patients use is important. From an agent perspective, having the right technology includes agent desktops, call monitoring, queue callback, intelligent dialers, and CRM integration with screen pops. From the patient perspective, having the right technology includes various ways the patient can easily interact such as email, SMS, video chat, tweets, and Facebook posts.

4. Measure Success with Call Center Metrics

Measuring quantitative performance such as call quality, first call resolution, patient satisfaction, average speed of answer, abandonment rate, and wait time are some of the ways medical call centers can have a visible eye on the success of their operation.

5. Reward and Motivate Agents

How agents deal with patients is in direct proportion to how well they are dealt with in their own company. Rewarding and motivating agents can go a long way toward producing a pleasant experience for the caller. This also includes empowering agents so they feel confident in their ability to do the job.

6. Ensure Agents Adhere to Regulations

Every organization has their own regulations, and medical call centers are no different. It’s vitally important that agents are well informed and follow the rules outlined by the call center. The medical call center needs to put in place proper measures to ensure those expectations have been communicated and understood by the agents. Proper training is the key.

7. Evaluate Agents

A method for evaluating agents is important to any medical call center, as it keeps the organization up to date with what is going on with each employee. Depending on the organization, having daily meetings with agents can help reduce potential risks that can take place on live calls.

Conclusion

The medical call center is a crucial component within healthcare to improve the patient experience while reducing risks. Ultimately the decision is yours as to how you go about minimizing risks in your call center. The key is creating a positive experience for the patient.

Michael Dozier is the president and CEO of Pulsar360, Inc., a leading provider of SIP services and disaster recovery solutions for call centers.

Four Steps to Minimize Risk in a Healthcare Call Center



By Janet Livingston

Running a call center is challenging, but mastering one in the healthcare industry carries an added set of concerns. People’s health and even their lives are at stake. Make a mistake, and it might affect someone’s future, even their life. Although it’s impossible to eliminate all risks, a few simple steps can greatly minimize them.

Hire the Right Skill Set

Determine what credentials you want staff in each position to carry. Then hire to meet those requirements. Don’t skimp or settle for someone less than ideal. With so much at stake, you don’t want to have an underqualified employee attempt to handle too big of a responsibility. This starts with hiring the right people for each position.

Determine what credentials you want staff in each position to carry. Then hire to meet those requirements. Don’t skimp or settle for someone less than ideal. With so much at stake, you don’t want to have an underqualified employee attempt to handle too big of a responsibility. This starts with hiring the right people for each position.

Determine what credentials you want staff in each position to carry. Then hire to meet those requirements. Don’t skimp or settle for someone less than ideal. With so much at stake, you don’t want to have an underqualified employee attempt to handle too big of a responsibility. This starts with hiring the right people for each position.

Consider E&O insurance as a backup in case the unthinkable happens. Click To Tweet

Provide HIPAA Training

Everyone in healthcare knows you must provide HIPAA training on a regular basis to all employees. However, finding time to do this may present a challenge. Every day in the call center is a busy one. This makes it easy to push off nonurgent tasks to tomorrow, next week, or next month. When it comes to HIPAA education, don’t delay. Make it a priority, and then do it. Provide HIPAA training as part of new employee onboarding. Then provide ongoing HIPAA instruction for every employee each year.

Insist That Staff Don’t Exceed Their Capabilities

Many medical call centers have a mix of staff, some with medical training and others without it. Though those without a healthcare background will quickly pick up medical jargon, processes, and even some protocols, make sure they don’t attempt to provide a level of service for which they lack the training. Nurses should provide nurse triage, while non-nurses shouldn’t offer any degree of medical advice. It’s that simple. This is one time to keep everyone in their place.

Have a Good Errors and Omissions Insurance Policy

Having a good errors and omissions (E&O) policy is important for outsource call centers, and it’s especially essential for healthcare-related operations. However, don’t view this as an excuse to take shortcuts. Instead strive to run your call center so that you’ll never need to file a claim. Consider E&O insurance as a backup in case the unthinkable happens.

Conclusion

While there’s a lot that can go wrong in a healthcare call center, there’s no reason to let it cause you to lose sleep. Follow these four tips to help ensure that your operation functions as it should and provides the high-quality service that your stakeholders expect.

Call Center Sales Pro

Janet Livingston is the CEO of Call Center Sales Pro, a premier consultancy and service provider for healthcare call centers and medical answering services. Contact Janet at contactus@callcenter-salespro.com or call 800-901-7706.

Three Major Benefits of a Medical Call Center Partnership



A Medical Call Center Partnership Contributes to Organizational Efficiency

By Karen Brown

Organizational efficiency is the ability to implement plans using the smallest possible expenditure of resources. It’s an important factor in organizational effectiveness and vital to the healthcare industry, which continues to experience increased operating costs and smaller bottom lines.

Medicare expansion and the ACA (Affordable Care Act) have contributed to significant increases in patient populations that are expensive to treat and provide minimal financial return. This strains an organization seeking to provide adequate post-discharge care, which can result in costly avoidable readmissions.

As patient loads and associated risks increase and reimbursement decreases, the ability to achieve organizational efficiency becomes more challenging. However, providing the highest possible quality patient care at the lowest possible operating expense can be possible with the assistance of a medical call center. By partnering with a call center’s team of registered nurses specially trained in telephone triage, organizations can save a significant amount of time and cost associated with adding staff while reducing the risk of unnecessary readmissions and inappropriate utilization of care.Partnering with a medical call center provides access to high quality care at the lowest cost possible. Click To Tweet

Telehealth and Related Services Are a Large Part of a Bright Future

It’s no secret that telehealth services and telemedicine are becoming increasingly popular due to the financial benefits they provide. Combined with federal policy changes (MACRA and MIPS) that address care planning and risk assessment—significantly effecting reimbursement in the process—telemedicine is poised to drive more revenue from virtual care directly to hospitals and healthcare organizations. And this is just the beginning. According to a recent report from Grand View Research, the telemedicine market should top $113 billion by 2025.

While telehealth currently focuses on a range of primary care services, the rising occurrences of chronic conditions as well as the increasing demand for self-care and remote monitoring are significant factors driving telehealth growth. Healthcare organizations that add new primary care options will reduce costs and create new services while remotely offering existing ones to more of their patient populations.

Partnering with a medical call center provides a healthcare organization with access to established chronic care, self-care, and remote monitoring programs. This eliminates significant labor costs. It’s vital to find a call center with outbound service offerings that include a variety of chronic care and follow-up, post-discharge call programs, including prescription/medicine reconciliation, self-care plan adherence, and follow-up appointment scheduling.

Quality of Care: Patient Satisfaction

In today’s world, people have a multitude of choices when it comes to their care. Because of this, it’s vital for healthcare organizations and providers to get every aspect of the patient experience right. Providing the correct medical care isn’t the only factor contributing to a positive experience. From the initial appointment-setting call to the final communication between a patient and provider, every experience contributes to the overall satisfaction and quality of care a patient receives.

One of the largest factors contributing to patient satisfaction is access to care. We live in a 24/7 world, and having access to definitive medical care at all times is a standard patient expectation. Providing that level of access is challenging and often costly. Not providing that level of access leaves patients feeling less empowered and engaged, which in turn can lead to poor experiences and even poorer satisfaction scores. A partnership with a medical call center gives patients access to definitive medical care 24/7/365 at much lower costs.

Another factor contributing to patient satisfaction is the quality of relationship with their caregivers. Patients expect to be engaged in decisions involving their care. This includes open communication with nurses and providers involved in that care. If patients do not feel their concerns have been heard and taken seriously, they feel less confident in the care they receive, resulting in a negative experience—even if the outcome is positive.

It isn’t uncommon for providers to become overwhelmed with consistently increasing workloads in a 24/7 environment. This can lead to frustration and burnout, which is often evident in their interactions with patients. Using a medical call center to cover all after-hours calls removes the 24/7 access from the provider’s core responsibilities. This is a powerful physician recruitment and retention game changer. In short, happy providers have more positive interactions with their patients, which results in higher patient engagement and satisfaction.

While no healthcare organization wants a patient to have a negative experience for any reason, there is a new factor regarding patient satisfaction that demands attention. Since the inception of value-based purchasing, the definition of a successful patient experience has been redefined. Now 30 percent of the overall quality of care is attributed to patient satisfaction.

This means that patient satisfaction survey scores directly impact an organization’s bottom line. The shift to pay-for-performance also means that reimbursements are tied to the quality of care. Hospitals that provide a higher quality of care than their peers will receive reimbursement incentives, while hospitals that provide a lower quality of care will incur penalties.

This is perhaps the most beneficial aspect of partnering with a medical call center. Providing positive experiences for both patient and provider can drastically improve overall patient satisfaction and outcomes, leading to a higher overall quality of care and the related financial rewards.

Ultimately the provision of appropriate, quality care to achieve positive outcomes is the goal of all healthcare organizations. Making that a possibility—while also considering organizational needs, government regulations, and patient experience—can be difficult and costly. Partnering with a medical call center provides access to high quality care at the lowest cost possible.

Karen Brown, RN, is vice president, business development, with TeamHealth Medical Call Center, a premier provider of medical call center solutions, providing services to more than 10,000 providers, health plans, home health and hospice organizations, employers, and universities across the United States.

The Healthcare Call Center’s Role in Reducing Hospital Readmissions



By Traci Haynes

Reducing hospital readmissions has been a focus of the healthcare environment for many years. Steven Jencks, MD, dubbed by many as the father of readmission research, along with Mark Williams, MD, and Eric Coleman, MD, analyzed medical claims data from 2003–2004 to describe the patterns of rehospitalization.

Readmissions Rates

Almost one-fifth (19.6 percent) of the 11,855,702 Medicare beneficiaries who had been discharged from a hospital were rehospitalized within thirty days. In 2007 the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MedPAC) reported to Congress that 13 percent of patients rehospitalized within thirty days of discharge in 2005 were for preventable reasons. These readmissions accounted for $12 billion in Medicare spending.

As a result, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) of 2010 mandated that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) implement a program in which hospitals with higher-than-expected readmission rates for certain designated conditions experience reductions (that is, penalties) in their Medicare payments.

Beginning in October 2012, the hospital readmission reduction program (HRRP) began adjusting hospital payments based on excess readmissions within thirty days of Medicare patients following myocardial infarction (MI), heart failure (HF), and pneumonia hospitalizations. The maximum penalty at that time was 1 percent of a hospital’s base Medicare reimbursement rate per discharged patient.

A year later the penalty increased to 2 percent and then to 3 percent in 2014. The first year more than 2,200 hospitals received penalties for failing to meet standards, with 8 percent incurring the maximum penalty. In addition readmission penalties now include elective knee and hip replacements and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Utilizing the call center to identify and implement communication strategies adds value to the organization and better outcomes for their patients. Click To Tweet

Reasons for Readmission

According to Bisognano and Boutwell, the primary reasons for readmission were no physician follow-up visit, medication discrepancies, and communication failure during transitions of care.

Coleman and others identified poor information transfer, poor patient and caregiver preparation, and limited empowerment to assert preferences as the primary reasons for readmission. Contributing factors include nurses not having time to thoroughly address the needs of both the patients and caregivers upon discharge, the hospital setting not being conducive to education to drive behavior change before discharge, and the care continuum breakdown between hospital discharge and the handoff to primary care.

The impact of the penalties has been a significant concern for hospitals that care for a larger number of low-income patients. They claim it is more difficult for their patients to adhere to post-hospital instructions, including payment for medications, dietary modifications, and transportation to follow-up appointments.

To address these challenges, some hospitals have implemented measures including discharging patients with medications, home visits, and follow-up calls. Other interventions include hiring specialty care coordinators and transition coaches to offer follow-up care for patients with multiple comorbidities, providing patients with extensive teach-back for multiple days prior to discharge so they’ll better know what to do after discharge. In addition many include comprehensive medication reviews with a clinical pharmacist.

Call Centers Help Reduce Readmissions

The healthcare call center can help reduce avoidable readmissions by enhancing the quality of care in the hospital-to-home transition through the combined capabilities of technology and human interaction. Discharge planning should begin upon admission to the hospital. This includes arranging for durable medical equipment (DME), transfer to step-down as appropriate, home healthcare, transportation needs, and communication with primary care providers (PCPs). Discussions with caregivers, the extended care team (which includes the PCP, caregivers, and pharmacist), and other members of the interdisciplinary team can be greatly improved by the services of the call center in helping to comprehensively coordinate the patient’s care.

The patient and their caregivers will also benefit from the reinforcement of information provided, teach-back, appointment reminders, and coordination of services including transportation, as well as medication reconciliation and symptom assessment resulting in earlier interventions and improved outcomes. Extending contact beyond the thirty-day penalty period will bring even greater benefits to patients and their caregivers, which may prolong readmissions indefinitely.

Some healthcare call centers make one post-discharge call to review the patient’s diagnosis, instructions, medications, and education materials. They also ensure that the patient has scheduled their follow-up appointment. Others make several outbound calls to the discharged patient including a call within the first twenty-four to forty-eight hours.

In addition, the call center staff or care coordinator may reach out to the patient again after their first appointment. Ideally this should occur within seven days post-discharge. This call typically reviews follow-up appointment instructions or changes in medications, assists in referrals and scheduling with additional providers or resources, and communicates to the interdisciplinary team as appropriate. During this contact, biometric monitoring may also be tracked through technology or as self-reported by patients or their caregivers.

Whatever level of service provided, it’s a win for the patients, their caregivers, and the healthcare organization. Utilizing the call center to identify and implement communication strategies that effectively engage the patient and their caregivers adds value to the organization and the opportunity of better outcomes for their patients.

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

References:

  • Bisognano, M., Boutwell, A. (2009). Improving Transition to Reduce Readmissions. Frontiers of Health Services Management 25(3), 3-10.
  • Coleman, E.A., Parry, C., Chalmers, S., & Sung-joon, M. (2006). Care Transitions Intervention. Arch Intern Medicine 166(17) 1822-1828.

Jencks, S.F., Williams, M.V., & Coleman, E.A. (2011). “Rehospitalization Among Patients in the Medicare Fee-For-Service Program,” New England Journal of Medicine 364:1582.

The Call Center Can Save Healthcare



With a shortage of practitioners and a downward push on costs, the call center is poised to come to the rescue

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

It’s a bold statement to claim that call centers are the future solution to healthcare’s present problems. But it’s what I believe. And more and more people in the healthcare industry are believing it every day too. Here’s why:

Contain Costs

The healthcare industry is under extreme pressure to hold costs down. One way to do this is to outsource calls to professional communicators at healthcare call centers. Let healthcare practitioners and staff do what they do best, and let call centers handle their calls for them. It saves money and frees healthcare staff to focus on patients and providing care.

Counter Staff Shortages

We currently have a shortage of doctors, and projections indicate the shortage will increase. Also, some geographic areas suffer from a shortage of nurses, and no one expects this to get better either. Given these shortages of key personnel, it makes sense to keep them off the phones and outsource as much telephone work as possible to healthcare call centers, with agents who can do the work faster and more economically.The medical answering service makes medical practices, clinics, and hospitals available to patients around-the-clock, 24/7. Click To Tweet

Increase Availability

The medical answering service has long been a cost-effective way to extend patient availability past normal office hours. It makes medical practices, clinics, and hospitals available to patients around-the-clock, 24/7. More recently, telephone triage operations have also made healthcare support available by telephone anytime of the day or night. Though this isn’t currently available to all people in all places, it will change. It must.

Retain Patients

Patients increasingly have a consumer mind-set when it comes to healthcare. Loyalty to their providers is no longer as strong as it once was. They’ll switch caregivers over the smallest of slights, which often occurs when they can’t get the assistance they want, when they want it. That’s why 24/7 phone coverage is essential to retain patients in today’s marketplace. The healthcare call center is primed to accomplish this.

Serve More People

Telehealth is another exciting healthcare development in the call center industry. With telehealth—of which telephone triage serves as the entry point—remote populations can now receive cost-effective service. No longer will people in rural areas need to drive long distances to access the healthcare system. Instead they’ll start with their phone. And if they have a smartphone, they can do a video chat, which aids remotely located practitioners in making more informed recommendations.

Let Specialists Specialize

In medicine we have many types of specialists. These highly trained individuals focus on one area, which allows them to serve a niche market better and faster than a general practitioner. Let’s expand this thought to the healthcare call center. The healthcare call center stands as the communication specialist for the healthcare industry. Just as there are benefits of going with a medical specialist, so too there are benefits of going with a healthcare communications specialist.

Conclusion

These exciting opportunities and the compelling outcomes they can provide show us how important healthcare call centers are to the healthcare industry. This applies both now and in the future. And while the demand for these healthcare call center specialists is great now, it will be even greater in the future.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Connections Magazine. He’s a passionate wordsmith whose goal is to change the world one word at a time.

Three Options for Setting up a Nurse Advice Line

By Charu Raheja, PhD



Managing patient calls effectively is critical to ensure high-quality, well-coordinated care for every patient. Make sure the people answering your phones triage patients efficiently and effectively. Establish a consistent nurse triage system to improve the way you manage patient calls, improve patient satisfaction, and decrease unnecessary medical expenses. Triage nurses can direct patients to the appropriate care for their symptoms and give patients peace of mind by addressing their concerns.

The benefits of nurse triage are better patient access, coordinated care, and cost savings. In addition, nurse triage gives patients better access to providers even if they aren’t seeking emergency care. This improves patient satisfaction, prevents future complications, and allows providers to educate patients.

With technology advances, several cost-effective opportunities are available to provide nurse triage services. Here are three key options to set up a nurse advice line:Each patient encounter starts with a phone call. Make sure your nurse triage service,is a seamless experience for your patients. Click To Tweet

1. Do It Yourself: Start Your Own Call Center

Opening your own call center involves setting up the call center infrastructure. The requirements depend on the scale and number of calls received. For daytime calls, many practices choose to have their own staff nurses take calls using daytime triage protocols.

These protocols are available in book form or in electronic format. For night calls, the requirements include hiring an experienced call center manager, purchasing triage software for nighttime protocols, and hiring clinical and nonclinical staff to handle patient calls.

Pro: Having your own system gives your staff the flexibility to perform multiple tasks in addition to triage, such as physician referrals, scheduling, disease management, class registration, and surveys.

Con: Setting up a call center requires a high investment. It is labor intensive for the nursing department, and it requires human resources and IT involvement. Moreover, there are significant differences in terms of hardware requirements and capabilities with various software programs, so it’s important to do your research and speak with a variety of vendors. This is a long-term project with a slow return on investment.

The organizations most likely to succeed with this approach are larger facilities with high call volumes who expect to handle over 50,000 triage calls a year. These companies are ideal because they likely already have some call center infrastructure in place and just need to add to it. The high call volume also allows the center to use nurses’ time efficiently.

2. Outsource to a Nurse Triage Center

If setting up your own call center seems daunting, you could use an outside vendor for nurse triage calls.

Pro: This option has a low start-up cost. You don’t need to train triage nurses. And there’s no human resources or IT component. Since the vendor is already taking calls, start-up is quick, and there’s an immediate return on investment. In addition, vendors may have more expertise in the niche area of triage, resulting in better care for patients.

Con: When outsourcing patient calls, you have less direct control over the nurses. Also, some nurse triage vendors can’t integrate with electronic medical records (EMR).

For the best outcome, be careful when interviewing vendors and make sure you’re comfortable with them. Be aware that costs vary depending on the vendor. While you “get what you pay for,” you get less from some than others. Assuming you’ve done your homework, outsourcing is a good option for small- to medium-size practices.

3. Use a Combination of In-House and Outsourced Services

In this model a healthcare organization uses its own nurse triage software and nurses during high call volumes and outsources the triage to a service during low call volumes. Call center technology, integration engines, and communication platforms can accomplish this seamlessly.

Pro: A combined model can expand services and decrease costs. Most triage centers lose money when the call volume is low because nurses sit idle waiting for phone calls. By outsourcing calls during low traffic times, the call center can provide service at a reduced cost.

Your organization can continue to provide the same level or increased levels of service and at the same time decrease operating costs. This also allows organizations to keep their current infrastructure and resources.

Con: Just as with the previous option, it’s critical to find the right partner who has the technology and service-level knowledge to implement a combined model. If their system doesn’t align with yours, an interruption in patient care will result.

This option works best for organizations that have some existing nurse triage infrastructure. Again, it’s crucial to select your call center partner carefully. Discuss your software and services with your partner before making a commitment.

Each patient encounter starts with a phone call. Make sure your nurse triage service, whether in-house, outsourced, or a combination, is a seamless experience for your patients.

It’s important to explore options for managing patient calls to find the solution and product that aligns with your needs.

Charu Raheja, PhD, is the CEO of TriageLogic, a leading provider of quality, affordable triage solutions, including after-hours medical call center software, daytime triage protocol software, and nurse triage on call.

The Ten Critical Steps of Taking a Triage Call



By Marci Lawing

The goal of every triage call is to make patients feel comfortable and heard, while at the same time collect critical information from them and get them to the appropriate level of care based on their symptoms.

Step 1: Introduce Yourself. Use your first name, title, and the practice or physician you represent. It’s imperative for you to clearly identify yourself and state your credentials as a nurse employee of the practice for which you work. When you introduce yourself, you create a relationship.

Step 2: Collect Demographic Information. Before you are ready to hear your patient’s concerns, you will need to know some basic information. Age, gender, and other data will affect your triage protocols, so be sure to collect all the necessary demographic information. This information is needed so it can be put in the appropriate chart and followed up.

Step 3: Gather Medical History. Get a brief medical history so you do not miss any important surgeries, medications, or relevant medical information from the recent months or years. You’ll want to know your patient’s medical history before he or she details the current issue.

Step 4: Let the Patient Talk. Now that you’ve armed yourself with all the necessary information you need to proceed, let the patient speak freely about current concerns. Be an active listener. That means that you don’t just listen; you participate in the conversation by asking any probing questions needed to ascertain a full description of the patient’s complaint.

Step 5: Document the Assessment. Once you’ve listened carefully to the patient, document your assessment carefully with the necessary details.

Step 6: Choose the Right Protocol. With the right triage protocol, this step can be fast and efficient. Be sure to document the answer to each question and make any additional notes needed.

Step 7: Get the Patient to the Right Level of Care. Now that you’ve followed the protocols and completed the assessment, you’re ready to recommend the level of care your patient needs. Be sure to speak clearly and at a pace the patient can follow while you detail every step he or she needs to take.

Step 8: Give Relevant Care Advice. Provide solutions based on the patient’s symptoms in order to help identify the best path to care.

Step 9: Make Sure Your Patient Knows When to Call Back. Confirm that the patient fully understands your triage advice and knows when and who to follow up with. Triage tip: Make sure your patient is able and willing to follow the plan you discussed. Click To Tweet

Step 10: Offer Reassurance. Make sure your patient is able and willing to follow the plan you discussed. It is important, especially with serious symptoms, that the patient follows your triage advice. If told to go to the ER, verify with the patient that he or she has access to safe transportation.

You can’t underestimate the power of empathy. Over 80 percent of patients who call their physician’s office may not need urgent care, but they all urgently need empathy, someone to listen, and someone to care. That’s the role of the triage nurse. In addition to being a good clinician, a critical thinker, and making sure everyone stays safe, you are also there to provide empathy and care advice to patients.

These ten critical steps will help you stay on track and ensure that patients get the quality care they deserve.

Marci Lawing, RN BSN, is the clinical nurse manager at TriageLogic LLC. TriageLogic’s online learning center is available free of charge to telephone triage nurses and teams as an educational resource and practical training guide. Along with course videos, coursework includes class notes, related articles, and learning materials. You will receive a TriageLogic Telephone Nurse Triage Certification for each completed course. Managers can also set up teams and check their individual nurses’ progress in the course.

The Patient Experience Contact Center



By Richard D. Stier

Patient experience failure, the incentivized reduction of avoidable readmissions, increasing rates of physician burnout, and the escalating priority of revenue cycle management, have all combined to incubate an unexpected solution: Exit the call center; discontinue generic transactions.

Instead the patient experience contact center is born. Enter the era of thoughtfully deployed patient experiences, beginning with the first point of contact. In contrast to yesterday’s call centers, which processed physician referrals and class enrollments, today’s patient experience contact centers are a health network’s communications nerve center. They deliver intentionally memorable experiences that strengthen preferences, mitigate risk, reduce unnecessary readmissions, serve as physician practice extenders, and solidify patient loyalty.

Patient Experience Failure: Currently healthcare has a 29 percent patient experience failure rate, according to research by Hospital Compare. Only 71 percent of inpatient patients receiving care report that they received the “Best Possible Care.”

In what universe is a 29 percent failure rate acceptable? Could we miss revenue projections by 29 percent? Be over budget by 29 percent? Would it ever be acceptable to miss quality standards by 29 percent? “We only dropped 29 percent of newborns, so we met the standard.” Seriously?

“Best Possible Care” experiences begin before a patient receives care and continues after the patient returns home. Healthcare contact centers are uniquely positioned. They serve as the virtual front door for personalized support and referrals before using a clinical service and for individualized follow-up and coaching after discharge.

With the launch of the Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (CAHPS) program by CMS in 2006, hospitals have dedicated significant time and resources to improving the results of CAHPS surveys. The shift from a transaction-focused call center to an experience-driven contact center is an investment to improve the experience of care—beginning with the first touchpoint when someone new to the community calls to request a referral to a primary care physician (PCP) and continuing after discharge when a contact center navigator calls to confirm a follow-up visit with that PCP.

That first touchpoint is critical. According to SHSMD (2012), the first three seconds of that initial interaction influences hospital selection and preference. Whether on the phone or online, healthcare contact centers can intentionally deliver a transformative first patient experience.

Incentivized Reduction of Avoidable Readmissions: One-half of all hospitals in the United States (2,597) will be penalized by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) for unnecessary readmissions in FY 2017. Those penalties will total $528 million, over $100 million more than in FY 2016. During 2016 forty-nine hospitals received the maximum penalty of 3 percent withholding from Medicare funding. A total of 1,621 hospitals have been fined over each of the five years (source: HealthStream SUMMIT 2016).

Preventable readmissions represent a substantial portion of unnecessary medical spending. According to data from the Center for Health Information and Analysis (CHIA), the estimated annual cost of this problem for Medicare is $26 billion annually, $17 billion of which is considered avoidable (source: Provider Advisor 2016 Volume 2, Issue 2, p. 4).

It’s about to get even harder. For FY 2017, CMS is adding open-heart surgery—a more complex, longer-stay procedure—to the list of clinical conditions monitored for avoidable readmissions.

Increasing Physician Burnout: Nine out of ten physicians discourage others from joining the profession. Currently about 300 physicians commit suicide every year (source: Daniela Drake, The Daily Beast, 2014).

As many as one in three physicians is suffering from burnout, which is linked to a list of pervasively negative consequences, including lower patient satisfaction and care quality, higher medical error rates, greater malpractice risk, higher physician turnover, physician alcohol and drug abuse and addiction, and physician suicide (source: Dike Drummond, MD, Stop Physician Burnout).

Physicians face increasing burdens, including the complexities of ICD-10 coding; new billing models; responding to new government regulations; dealing with a changing landscape of health plans; sharing information across the network; inefficiencies of credentialing, provider enrollment, and onboarding; documenting quality; cybersecurity; loss of autonomy; threats from alternative providers; and the “retailization” of primary care.

And, here comes the value-based reimbursement plan for physicians: MACRA (Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act). Beginning in 2019 physicians will be reimbursed on various performance metrics such as quality, advancing care quality, resource use, and clinical practice improvement. According to Deloitte, “Providers are in for a notable awakening when the law takes place in 2017.”

On top of this avalanche of stressors, physicians must keep up-to-date clinically, build practice volume, and improve their patients’ experiences. Are you exhausted yet?

Growing Focus on Revenue Cycle Management: The Affordable Care Act (ACA) and Medicaid expansion has created an influx of previously uninsured patients that has left healthcare organizations scrambling to accommodate increased demand while simultaneously experiencing lower margins. Because consumers are assuming greater financial responsibility for their own healthcare, healthcare delivery networks must shift from a wholesale to a retail environment where they interact directly with patients on issues such as pricing, billing, and payment. Unfortunately, hospitals and health networks are experiencing a strong correlation between the use of high-deductible plans and the amount of bad debt they are incurring (source: HealthCare Finance, 2016).

Concurrently, few healthcare organizations have taken the steps necessary to integrate the many information systems that support revenue cycle management. Systems are incompatible across service lines, locations, and functionality. Different software solutions are frequently employed to support disparate functions such as registration, clinical documentation, and billing.

Even worse, some of these functions may be done manually or are only partially automated, making data analysis incomplete or impossible. As the industry migrates toward value-based care, healthcare organizations are entering new collaborations, taking on risk contracts, exploring alternative sources of revenue, and being pressured to document outcomes. Patient experience contact centers address a myriad of healthcare industry pressures. Click To Tweet

Summary: Patient experience contact centers are a timely response to a myriad of industry pressures. Redeploying a legacy transaction-focused call center as a patient experience contact center can strengthen preference for your organization, mitigate risk, reduce unnecessary readmissions, serve as a physician practice extender, and solidify patient loyalty.

Richard D. Stier, MBA, is vice president of marketing for Echo, a HealthStream Company. He is a passionate and results-proven proponent of delivering transformative patient experiences.