Two-thirds of all U.S. hospitals utilize a medical call center (outsourced or in-house) and have been doing so for decades. These call centers have been proven to improve patient satisfaction, to streamline operations, to capture important data, and to control the rising costs of delivering care.
Healthcare is a highly transactional and massive industry, and more competitive than one might think. Hospitals compete other hospitals and clinics, private practices compete with other private practices. In many cities across America there are two or even three pharmacy chains within a mile of each other – or less. These pharmacies, along with large grocery and big box retailers are setting up clinics, and adding new services, including providing virtual doctor or nurse visits to their customers.
This is business – this is retail – and this is also fundamentally important to making affordable healthcare available to all, especially when professional contact center and CX practices are in place to drive better business and patient outcomes.
Although the Internet and smartphones have emerged as new and popular communication channels for providing healthcare customer service, several studies suggest that live, expert agent access via voice is still among most preferred channels for people who need assistance, however two-way video, multi-party video, e-mail, live chat, chat bots, self-service, text messaging and even social private messaging are becoming increasingly popular – especially for digital natives.
As medical call centers continue to adopt other channels, becoming contact centers where Customer Experience (CX) becomes Patient Experience (PX), they are finding many new benefits, including the ability to capture, store and analyze information coming through those channels, and use that information to predict and plan as part of continuous improvement initiatives.
Providing authentic, professional and expert customer service can significantly impact perceptions, and with new software platforms and the use of the cloud and secure private networking, more innovation is being spurred, including the cultivation of “healthcare navigators” who help route a patient or patient’s family to the ideal expert.
The expansion of alternative payment models (for example value-based care, reduction of return visits with penalties from government agencies in the U.S. including Medicaid and Medicare) is driving hospital administrations to continue to prioritize follow-ups with patients to ensure satisfactory outcomes, turning “one way” inbound engagements to “two way” outbound check-ins.
Now that telemedicine and telehealth are being more broadly used (in large part due to the current COVID-19 global health crisis), every provider is now in a position to achieve an excellent and nearly immediate ROI when they transform from traditional workflow and roles to digitally-enabled and highly intelligent platforms which include real time expert routing.
There are many ways the “trees” can be built, depending on the size and culture of a hospital or medical center, and depending on the services offered. With the latest software (developed in the contact center and CX industry at large), strategies can be created that make it possible to reduce Average Handle Time (AHT) and by extension the cost of providing care, while delivering better outcomes and higher “PX.”
For example, a hospital can embed “click to connect” capabilities on webpages associated with specific diseases. Rather than providing an old-fashioned toll free (and expensive) 800 number, and forcing callers to sit through long IVR menus, wait for an agent, risk being dropped, and frustrated when being passed from one person to the other, hospitals can liberate themselves and their patients from “the runaround.”
Let us say a fifty-year-old man has certain symptoms that lead him to believe he may have colon cancer. He does not have a primary physician as he has recently moved to a new city, but he is aware of the closest medical center and goes to their website and searches for “colon cancer.”
From that webpage, he can choose to chat live, can choose to make an appointment with a specialist, can click to initiate a computer voice call, and more. Whichever channel he chooses, he connects with a health navigator eventually and this expert in understanding how to triage inbound inquiries can find an oncologist specializing in color cancer available online for an immediate consultation.
He is sent a link to a patient profile page to set up an account with the medical center, he does so, and upon completion is automatically reconnected to confirm the appointment. All of this is being captured “in the system” and whenever this man reaches out, he is met with a personalized greeting, and his Electronic Health Record is updated.
This “virtuous cycle” plays out in countless use cases within healthcare systems, especially when platform integration evolves and APIs make it possible for that medical center to also track insurance coverage, payments, co-pays, prescriptions and more.
In cases of future public health emergencies, experts in a specific, new virus (for example COVID-19) can be trained to speed up the time it takes to interact with a potentially compromised individual, and can trigger the right next steps to get the individual calling in connected with a specific nurse, for example, who specializes in respiratory illnesses.
The deeper ROI happens when this information is being captured in the system, stored in the cloud, aggregated, and analyzed, making reporting timely and accurate.
We have only begun to scratch the surface of what is possible when systems and software combine in real time to streamline care; in a few years, we believe hundreds of thousands of doctors, nurses, specialists and navigators around the world will be online and serving virtually, including from the comfort of their own homes. The opportunity to improve the process for all participants while reducing costs is massive; it just took a pandemic to shine a brighter light on this important topic.
It can be hard to fathom a life without customer service in it. Before remote desktop support, live chat and other contact center solutions, there were complex phone trees and outsourced call centers and before that there were buggy IVR systems and telephone switchboards connecting you to the store you purchased the product from.
The past few decades have seen the business world sway multiple times between call center outsourcing and internal call center operations.