3 steps to alleviate patient stressors from the already stressed out patient population

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Patients often complain about waiting too long on the line before connecting with an agent. Their patience is already diminished when they are struggling with a disease and are experiencing high levels of stress. When they are finally greeted by an agent, patients complain about how cumbersome it is to validate their identity, repeat the submission of their insurance information, and answer questions about the status of their condition. Although this information is needed for HIPPA compliance, billing, triage and scheduling even though it may seem very inconvenient and redundant to the patient. The coordination of care must be streamlined to meet both the organization’s metrics and regulations while keeping the patient’s expectations in mind. How can call center managers alleviate these stressors from our already stressed out patient population? Healthcare Blog 11-16-15

The first and most common solution is a staffing analysis. A staffing analysis allows call center managers to assess supply and demand. Managers would ensure that there are enough agents present and able to answer inbound calls during peak call times. This analysis is most useful when there are multiple skill sets that have variability in their call peaks; cross coverage opportunities become apparent though the use of Aspects’ Workforce Management software. Gaps in staffing also become apparent as well, and call center mangers must attain the funding to conduct a recruitment campaign to fill their staffing gaps.  Although this is valuable and much needed form of analysis, it must be coupled with additional forms of problem solving.

Are there opportunities to decrease the average handle time? Substantially decreasing the average handle time can impact staffing; less time on the phone agents = less agents to answer and process calls.  Below are some tips for decreasing the average handle time through the use of your telephony system:

  1. Automation
    1. Patient Identifiers: Patients can be instructed to enter or speak their identifiers through the IVR. Medical record numbers, date of birth, phone number, and or first and last name can be all be entered into the telephony system and can in turn populate on the agent’s screen when he received the call. If the organization is sophisticated and has already married its electronic medical record to its telephony system, this information can be directly populated into the electronic medical record. The automation of this step could shave a substantial amount of time from the call. Corporate compliance regulations vary from one healthcare organization to the next, thus making it necessary that corporate compliance be an active member in the implementation of this workflow and the redesign of the agent scripting.
    2. Pre-Recorded Greeting: Each agent records a standard greeting. The automated greeting is played for the patient when the system indicates that the respective agents has become available. The call is then seamlessly bridged to the agent to process the call.
  2. Self Service
    1. Online Portal: Patients should be encouraged to utilize the organization’s online portal for direct communication with their provider, appointment reminders, appointment requests, self-scheduling and prescription refills. The messaging tools within the hospital’s electronic medical records often interface with online portals. Direct communication with the providers and the clinical staff can often alleviate some call volumes and pressure off of the call center. Self-service, if done correctly, can be a wonderful way to convert inbound calls during peak times to online communication or an outbound call when call volumes drop.
  3. Process Improvement
    1. Analysis and Process Redesign: It is always ideal to live in a data rich environment. Aspect’s reporting tools allow call center managers to isolate bottle necks within a specialty skill or a specific call type. Quality auditors can pull a sample of calls to identify the root cause for the elongated call times and wrap times. Upon isolating these bottlenecks, points of frustration and agent confusion, call center managers must collaborate and invest time into redesigning the current technology or current workflows. Eliminating these barriers can lead to a tremendous improvement in patient satisfaction, agent satisfaction, decrease in the average handle time and increase cost savings.

Alleviating patients of these stressors can also have additional benefits. The healthcare organization can realize a financial gain through lower staffing requirements and lower rates of agent attrition. Agents are less likely to search for other opportunities when their workload becomes balanced and streamlined. Aspect’s array of technological offerings can set you up for success in many different arenas.

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Bob Trine

Bob Trine identifies and brings to market enabling technologies that improve patient communications, enhance patient experience and leverage integrated business intelligence. Bob writes about all things patient experience.
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