Healthcare organizations are now moving toward offering bundled services in an effort to provide patients with a holistic approach to healing. Multiple medical specialties are often called upon to treat patients with both complex and common illnesses. For example, a patient may be in need of an appointment with an orthopedist, radiologist and a physical therapist to determine the appropriate plan of care. The patient could then transition to a surgical path, in which case he would need to see an orthopedic surgeon and attain pre-anesthesia clearance.
Coordination of care frequently spans across several distinct medical specialties, as illustrated in the example above. How does this translate to the call center setting?
Some call center managers group 3 or 4 medical areas into a scheduling pod, in order to bundle multiple services. Agents tend to specialize in 1 or 2 specialties and dabble in others. They can look to their pod mates for assistance when scheduling a patient in an area outside of their realm of expertise. In other call centers, agents transfer calls to colleagues when they do not have the skills to assist the patient with a request.
To make all this work the way it was intended, call center managers must invest in a knowledge base that automates some of the scheduling rules and guidelines. They must also promote cross-coverage as a patient satisfaction and cost-cutting measure. There are many tools through the electronic medical record and telephony systems to assist in the error-proofing of cross training. The use of guided questionnaires has proven to be the best approach for capturing the operations of each respective clinic and seamlessly scheduling across an enterprise. In addition to developing the technology and providing the agents with the tools to perform their job duties, call center management must also provide some motivation to take on additional work and responsibility. The carrot is a much better a motivator than the stick!
The career ladder is very effective tool to assess which agents have the capability and skill set to schedule for multiple specialties without errors. Agents must have a sense of autonomy and should be made to feel that taking on additional work is a highly rewarded choice. This ladder is a merit-based system that rewards agents for taking on additional work. Agents are graded on the following criteria:
- Number of specialties in which an agent can demonstrate expertise. Agents are rewarded at different levels based on the number of specialties (three, six or nine) that they have mastered.
- The quality of the agent’s calls within each specialty. Agents must provide the highest quality of service for 95% of their calls.
- The focus on soft skills and empathy
- The number of errors committed during the coordination of care. Agents must have a 99% scheduling accuracy rate.
- Mentorship of peers and the provision of assistance while they are cross-training on a foreign specialty. Many agents can serve as leaders and experts during this journey.
Incremental monetary amounts can be added to an employee’s hourly rate as a means of incentive. This reward is not permanent; it is dependent on performance. Agents must maintain a level of excellence to continue to receive the benefits from climbing the career ladder.
Promoting cross-coverage is a path your organization may find worth exploring in order to cut costs while increasing patient – and agent – satisfaction.