The Ins and Outs of Hospital Contact Centers

Communication is at the root of many of the most pressing challenges for hospitals today. From regulatory considerations to reduced reimbursements to a constantly mobile staff, healthcare organizations face complex needs when it comes to staying connected. For maximum efficiency and to provide the best patient care, all the disparate systems in a hospital environment need to work together, from the EHR and alerting for physicians and nurses, to secure messaging, on-call schedules, and overall contact center communications.

In fact, an efficient and effective call center provides immeasurable benefits to your hospital’s staff and patients. Because the contact center is often tasked with answering questions, transferring calls, relaying vital information, launching code calls, and more, it is truly the communication backbone of the organization. Operators’ ability to respond quickly and accurately to varied inquiries from patients, physicians, nurses, and other staff members is crucial to keeping the contact center running smoothly. One foundational element to this is the directory, which feeds many other systems with the latest staff contact and scheduling information. Accurate directory information makes secure messaging, call transfers, efficient code calls, and overall staff communications work smoothly and without time wasted looking for these details.

The quality of a hospital’s communication, whether it’s happening through the call center or at the patient’s bedside, is often a reflection of how reliable and responsible the organization is. When messages are delayed, on-call schedules are sorely outdated and patients’ family members can’t reach their loved one, your hospital could be perceived negatively—all of which could result in lowered scores on Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS) surveys. In order to tighten up processes, connect care providers quickly, fast-track test results, and quickly connect callers with the right people every time, your hospital needs the right hospital contact center solutions. It simply isn’t a matter of “if” a call center solution is right for your hospital anymore; it’s a matter of “which” call center solution fits your hospital’s needs best.

Purpose of a Hospital Call Center

One core purpose of a hospital’s contact center is to be a major patient touchpoint. When there is a break in this communication—the patient can’t find the staff member they need, they are treated poorly, etc.—the entire relationship is impacted. But when this connection is seamless, you have the opportunity to directly improve patient satisfaction and care. Healthcare systems today, more than ever, are putting the quality of patient care first and this means communication systems need to support your efforts to provide higher quality service. This starts the moment a patient first contacts your hospital for information.

The current shift to value-based healthcare means hospitals and healthcare facilities are being asked to do more than ever. Essentially, value-based reimbursement systems mean “doctors and hospitals are paid for helping keep people healthy and for improving the health of those who have chronic conditions in an evidence-based, cost-effective way.” Healthcare providers will strive to deliver the best care they can at a lower cost. This system varies from the more traditional fee-for-service model where hospitals are paid based on the number of services they deliver. The latter model doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with making sure the health of the patient actually improves. Why does all of this matter, though?

Healthcare can only be improved if related systems can keep up. If treatment improves but critical communication throughout a hospital is still lacking, improvement will be slow to show itself. Poor communication means physicians, nurses, and patients can’t always be connected to the information they need. The best communication systems get the right information to the right person when they need it while abiding by federal laws and guidelines, such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA). When these factors combine—timeliness, cohesion, efficiency, and effectiveness—your hospital will be set up for communication success, which will directly benefit the patient.

 
CASE STUDY

North Mississippi Medical Center

North Mississippi Medical Center improved physician and call center communications. Find out how.

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Benefits of a Fine-Tuned Contact Center

The right contact center solution for any hospital will be able to achieve a number of goals to set it up for success, including:

  • Improve patient satisfaction by receiving calls and answering questions with speed and accuracy
  • Minimize the number of abandoned calls and wait times
  • Boost call resolution—did the caller get the answer they were looking for?
  • Resolve complaints to improve patient retention and referrals
  • Assist in the efficiency of getting messages and important information, such as test results, to the right people at the right time
  • Integrate with other hospital communication systems, such as on-call scheduling, public branch exchanges (PBXs), nurse call and bed management, electronic health records and more

contact center operators

The right call center solution will set the tone for the rest of a patient’s experience with your hospital. If the first step in their journey is to set up an appointment or ask a question, an effective contact center will be able handle this with ease. An ineffective one, on the other hand, could leave the patient on hold for long periods of time, or even route them to the wrong person with no answers. Poorly functioning call centers could leave a sour taste in a patient’s mouth, which could have them seeking care at a different healthcare facility the next time.

When you make the decision to implement the best contact center solutions available today, you are making the right choice toward meeting the needs of patients. Full integration of services means every part of your hospital will be able to communicate with all the others in a seamless and effective manner. This also means being able to communicate with anyone on any device. People have moved away from solely communicating through landlines and email on desktop computers, which means hospitals need to be able to access patients, nurses, and physicians alike where they spend most of their time communicating, whether that’s a pager, smartphone, tablet, Wi-Fi phone, or any other device.

Adopting the latest in call center solutions will bring your hospital newfound accessibility to important information in a more timely matter and an enhanced ability to get it to those who need it. This advancement in communication throughout entire hospitals and across departments directly improves patient care and can create tremendous benefits for the hospital. Better experiences not only help retain patients, but they also increase their lifetime loyalty to the hospital. Additionally, a happy patient is more apt to give a hospital better scores on satisfaction surveys such as the HCAHPS. The HCAHPS is a national standardized survey administered by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). All hospitals are encouraged to utilize the HCAHPS survey as they can miss out on financial incentives if they opt out. The survey asks questions related to nine topics:

  • Communication with doctors
  • Communication with nurses
  • Responsiveness of hospital staff
  • Pain management
  • Communication about medicines
  • Discharge information
  • Cleanliness of the hospital environment
  • Quietness of the hospital environment
  • Transition of care

call center operator

Every one of these core areas can be positively affected by better communication hospital wide. By the year 2017, 2 percent of hospital reimbursement dollars from CMS could be affected by survey scores, and when you deal in the hundreds of millions of dollars, that adds up to a lot. While HCAHPS isn’t the only patient experience survey, it is one that can have an impact on a hospital’s finances and their ability to offer more services in the future. Improving each patient’s care and experience is the number one benefit to improved call centers, but a close second is the potential for financial incentive and the ability to grow the range of offerings.

Common Call Center Problems and Their Solutions

When call centers are outdated or fall out of sync with how the rest of the hospital needs to communicate, problems can start to pile up and further slow processes and communication. Some problems that are common among hospital call centers include:

1. Underlying Issues Are Overlooked

Your contact center might be “broken,” but you’re unsure how to fix it. Without knowing what the true underlying issues are, unhappy patients and delayed communication will only be perpetuated, and the reputation of your hospital could suffer. Discovering underlying issues means taking a serious inventory of the quality of your call center. Perhaps the problem is that the technology is outdated, calls can’t transfer, departments can’t talk to each other, or on-call scheduling is still done in a spreadsheet. Any of these issues could cause a detrimental bottleneck in how calls are received and resolved. Another root of the problem could be the skill, experience, or demeanor of call center staff. They are the face of your hospital when communicating with callers. Ensuring that everyone uniformly represents your hospital and has the necessary skill set for success could resolve bigger problems.  

2. Speed Is Valued More Than Quality

Some contact centers grade their success on how many calls are answered in the average day. This focus on quantity could come at the expense of quality call resolution. If a patient is on hold for too long, gets transferred to the wrong resources, or thinks the call center operator is trying to rush them, their first impression of your hospital won’t be a good one and could affect the rest of their experience.

Resolving this common problem means establishing processes that will end in a patient’s needs being met without rushing. Valuing quality over quantity is the real measure of how successful a hospital’s call center can be. While patient communication is important, it also means improving the quality of PBX systems, on-call schedules, etc., and how each system communicates with the others. Timely and accurate information is key to a useful and valuable call center.

3. Inconsistent Processes

When contact center solutions are hastily or poorly implemented, you end up with many employees following their own processes. Inconsistent processes can cause chaos in any system, especially when it comes to communications. Establishing consistency within a contact center starts with the proper training and understanding of systems. Roll out new communication solutions slowly to avoid confusion, overwhelming anyone, and to make sure employees are receiving the proper training along the way. Ensure that everyone understands why a process is important and what goals it achieves. By making sure everyone is working from the same playbook, your communication processes can be uniform hospitalwide.

call center headset

4. Outdated Technology

If a hospital’s contact center is utilizing outdated technology that can’t keep up with how people communicate today, you could be experiencing serious problems in relaying information or reaching appropriate parties. Problems could also arise when some systems are updated while others aren’t, forcing people to essentially work in two technological eras. For example, many contact centers still rely on chaotic, paper-based systems, with multiple schedules, procedures, and directory and on-call information stored in different binders and books. When all this data is part of a web-based directory, staff can access important information quickly. Operators can locate staff with one call, doctors and nurses can reach each other without wasting precious time, and on-call information and schedules are always up to date.

If it’s time to choose a new solution for your contact center, do research on its technological capabilities:

  • Can it be integrated to bed call management, HL7 data and EHR systems? What about PBX systems or on-call scheduling software?
  • Do you need a new solution to automatically route calls to the right person?
  • Can calls be forwarded to other devices such as smartphones?

Take an inventory of your hospital’s specific needs, then start your research to see which solution can resolve your call center woes while giving the patients the care and satisfaction they’re seeking.

 
CASE STUDY

Munson Medical Center

Learn how Munson Medical Center made efficiency improvements and dramatically reduced response time to critical events.

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Efficient Call Centers Provide Long-Term Benefits

When done correctly, a call center isn’t just another cost for a hospital. It is the place to make great first impressions, build trust and loyalty, and attract and retain new patients. It’s the first touchpoint to care, and it gives a patient a good idea of what’s to come—meaningful and accurate communication and care. By adapting to today’s communication technology, integrating with other hospital communication solutions, and focusing on quality patient care and improving experiences, your ideal contact center solution will reap benefits for decades to come.

If your hospital is experiencing the same problems time and time again because of a breakdown in communication, miscommunication among departments, technological incompatibility, or even the salty demeanor of a call center operator, it’s time to find a better solution. Delaying implementation of an advanced contact center solution ultimately leads to delayed communication, poor patient experiences and, possibly, decreased financial incentives for your hospital. Start your search for the best solution for your hospital today—you can’t afford not to.