Healthcare call centers are rapidly emerging as a competitive advantage in the healthcare industry. Healthcare call centers serve many critical functions that help facilitate the effective provision of care.
One function of a healthcare call center is that they serve as a first point of contact for new patients. This allows a healthcare facility to quickly and cost-effectively bring in new business, all thanks to their call center. Some hospitals consider their call center their most effective and least costly form of marketing.
A second function that healthcare call centers serve is to facilitate communication between patient and provider, as well as provider to provider. Patients can call anytime of the day or night to find a healthcare provider, set or change an appointment, find information, or leave critical communication for their provider. This 24/7 availability, which is only a phone call away, improves patient access, offloads work for office and hospital staff, and lessens the after-hours workload for healthcare providers.
A third function of healthcare call centers is the most exciting: trained, registered nurses provide medical advice over the phone. Called telephone triage, a well-functioning operation provides around-the-clock access to address many of the health concerns of its community. This serves to offload work from over-burdened, after-hours medical staff. Also, telephone triage directs patients to the most cost-effective and appropriate care. This serves to reduce unnecessary work for the emergency department (ED), while still directing people there when appropriate.
Ed Forster knew all this when he accepted the position of director of call center operations at Mercy City Hospital. Though he had plenty of healthcare experience in many different areas, this was his first exposure to the call center. His understanding of call centers was secondhand, and he completely lacked practical experience. But that didn’t concern the people who hired him.
When it came to healthcare call center management, he had the management and healthcare part down, but he faced a huge learning curve regarding the call center aspect. A tour of the operation on his first day at the hospital revealed just how much work there was to do and how steep a learning curve he faced. But he needed to get things done quickly to satisfy his mandate from the people who hired him, and he couldn’t afford any miscues.
After his first day of work, he wondered what he got himself into and spent a restless night thinking about it. Yet in the morning clarity emerged. He would investigate hiring a healthcare call center consultant, if such a thing existed. Surely it did, but he’d have to do some digging.
His online research revealed several options, some promising and others not so much. Based on what he discovered online and bolstered by a recommendation from an industry connection, he placed a call to his top prospect. As he talked with the lead consultant, a plan rapidly took shape to deal with Ed’s healthcare call center management challenges.
A couple weeks later one of their primary consultants arrived for an on-site evaluation. They assessed the operation, looking at its strengths and weaknesses. The primary positive element was a dedicated staff who really cared about their callers and wanted to do a good job. But beyond that, the call center didn’t have much else going for it, aside from the support of upper management. The list of weaknesses, coupled with industry opportunities, was much longer. With Ed’s input, the consultant prioritized these issues and set about implementing needed changes.
First, the call center had not been good about consistently providing regular HIPAA training or documenting that the training occurred. Yes, there staff understood HIPAA and took it seriously, but Ed would be hard-pressed to prove that any training took place. The first step was to have all call center staff go through HIPAA training.
Fortunately, Ed’s consultant had a solution. Her firm provided remote access to HIPAA training, geared towards healthcare call center staff. The training took less than an hour per employee and all staff quickly completed the course, which served as a review for most of them. However, the important thing was that Ed now had documentation to prove who took the course and when. Now on to the next challenge.
All the call center staff were full-time employees, working either five 8-hour shifts or four 10-hour shifts a week. This was terrible for the call center and their callers. In any given shift, the call center agents would spend a few hours working as fast as they could and still not keep up with calls, yet there were other times when they sat there bored, often waiting several minutes between calls. The consultant showed how inefficient this was from a workload standpoint and how expensive it was from a payroll standpoint.
Ed, his call center manager, and his consultant worked together to produce a new, optimum schedule. Though this preserved some of the eight and ten-hour shifts, it also introduced shorter shifts and split shifts. Existing staff had the option of switching to these new shifts and several employees did. They had been struggling to maintain focus for longer shifts and jumped at the chance to not work as long. For a couple of them, the split shifts were perfect.
Then Ed went about hiring new, part-time staff to fill the remaining odd shifts. Over time, the call center staffing levels begin to converge on this ideal schedule. Customer service skyrocketed, and payroll cost dropped.
The third challenge Ed faced with his healthcare call center management was that no one did things the same way. Each person used their best judgment in handling the various call scenarios. Though most of the time this worked out just fine, the result was inconsistency from one call to the next. The consultant helped them to determine and document best practices. Then they taught these new procedures to the staff and used side-by-side coaching to reinforce the new practices. Overall, everyone liked the new structure, which removed the need for them to make judgment calls for most scenarios.
Ed and his consultant were about to move into the next phase, tapping into the vast capabilities of their call-center platform, when his plans derailed. Ed’s long-time call center manager opted for an early retirement. Ed looked at his existing staff to see who could potentially run the operation. The people who he thought could do it weren’t interested. And the people who wanted to do it weren’t ready. Promoting them prematurely would set them up for failure.
Ed was getting ready to begin an external search for a call center manager, when the consultant suggested a different solution. It was both elegant and ideal for his situation. He would outsource the healthcare call center management function to his consultant’s company. They already managed a couple other hospital call centers and were ready to manage his as well.
Though this could have been a long-term solution, Ed opted for a two-year contract. In addition to managing the call center during these two years, the consultants would also groom Ed’s three most promising management candidates to move into managerial positions. The goal was at the end of two years, the consultant would phase out of managing the call center, and Ed’s employees would move into advanced roles: call center manager, call center assistant manager, and second shift manager.
The best thing about this solution was that there would be no time spent searching for a replacement manager, training her, and hoping she worked out. The transition with the consultant’s organization was immediate. Problem solved.
Ed’s call center had many functions, as well as departments. One group handled the hospital receptionist/console calls. Another group handled their medical answering service division. Most of these agents were cross trained. A third group, comprised of nursing staff, handled the telephone triage division. Many of the nurses were also cross trained, though no non-nursing personnel handled any triage calls. Ed also had staff who specialized in insurance calls and other groups that handle things such as post-discharge calling, moves and transfers, and disease management.
It was a lot to handle, and the sheer vastness of it often presented challenges. In evaluating all this various work, Ed deemed the medical answering service component the least critical to the hospital’s overall objective. Also, the answering service produced the most headaches and generated the least amount of profit. Initially, Ed considered shutting it down in an orderly matter, allowing the practices and clinics that used the answering service time to make other arrangements.
Instead of doing that, the consultant recommended outsourcing the medical answering service work to a company that specialized in handling those types of calls. This outsourcing call center would serve as an extension of the hospital’s call center. The hospital would retain the business relationship with each one of their medical answering service clients, as well as receive the revenues from the outsource call center’s work. However, all Ed’s payroll and management expenses associated with the medical answering service would go away. Instead he would receive a single monthly invoice from the outsourcing call center. The outsourcing call center even hired some of Ed’s answering service employees. His remaining staff moved to other positions in the call center and across the hospital.
After Ed’s first day as director of call center operations he had doubts about the job, how good a fit he was for it, and if he would be successful. That all evaporated the next day when he contacted Call Center Sales Pro. They helped him analyze and correct his call center’s short-term issues. Then they provided healthcare call center management services when his manager quit unexpectedly. Last, they found an outsource call center to take over the medical answering service work and save Ed the hassle.
Ed’s call center is running smoothly now, thanks to the folks at Call Center Sales Pro. They still check in periodically to help keep Ed moving forward. And he wouldn’t have it any other way.
Contact Call Center Sales Pro today at 800-901-7706 to learn more about their comprehensive, full-service consulting services. You’ll be glad you did.