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Readers Write: Bringing the Call Center Into the 21st Century

May 17, 2023 Readers Write 2 Comments

Bringing the Call Center Into the 21st Century
By Ben Moore

Ben Moore is chief product officer of PerfectServe of Knoxville, TN.


Like some of you, I was compelled to dip my toe in the healthcare waters because of a personal experience.  It was over a decade ago, but I still remember it like it was yesterday.

My wife was pregnant with our daughter, who came weeks before her due date. Both my wife and daughter faced serious complications, and my stress level was exacerbated significantly by care delays that seemed almost entirely caused by inefficient communication. Simple questions and follow-ups that should have taken minutes ended up taking hours. These delays put both my wife and daughter’s health and safety at risk. 

For example, to reach the specialist, a nurse would have to call the hospital operator, who then had to manually track down and page the correct specialist on call, which would often start a process of telephone tag among nurses, operators, and physicians. The physicians were, and in some cases still are, carrying one-way pager devices, which would cause lots of disjointed one-way communications.

At that time, we had purchased the first-generation 3G-connected iPad for my wife while she was in the hospital. She was able to instantly text friends and family from her hospital bed and engage in social media. I was perplexed. Why weren’t the care teams in the hospital equipped with similar state-of-the-art communication tools? My wife was able to engage in real-time and media-rich communication, but hospital staff were limited to 140-character alphanumeric pager messages, telephone callbacks, and voicemails. The contrast was stark, and to be frank, seemed a bit ridiculous.

I can tell you that archaic technology and processes like the ones I described above are still prevalent across healthcare today. As just one example, even though over 70% of communications into and out of a hospital run through the call center, these antiquated tools are still, in many cases, a major part of directing that very important traffic. That’s alarming.

By upgrading technology that has its roots in the 1990s, the call center can become a true hub for patient engagement and clinical collaboration. Here are four steps you can take to bring the call center into the 21st century. 

  1. Head for the cloud. Eighty percent of call center systems still use on-premise technology. This is problematic, because you’re only going to reliably connect stakeholders across all sites of care with a cloud-based solution. I once witnessed a fan blow up on a hospital PC server, and it completely knocked out communication with incoming ambulances. With a cloud-based system, this kind of risk is gone. If your EHR is already in the cloud, your call center should be there, too.
  2. Unify clinical and patient communication. Rather than forcing operators to play middleman, go with a system that allows providers to communicate directly with patients. This kind of setup can be achieved within a broader ecosystem that facilitates both clinician-to-clinician and patient-to-clinician communication, meaning all communication is initiated and captured in one platform. This means less complexity for providers, easier access for patients, and greater transparency — especially with EHR integration — for anyone who needs to reference communication history.
  3. Integrate, integrate, integrate. Speaking of integration, I actually think it should be a bigger focus for the call center than things like analytics or standard performance metrics, which you find in most call centers today. A properly executed integration plan can reduce the manual labor of operators by over 80%. Key integrations should include the EHR, patient flow systems, CRM, and scheduling platforms to provide operators with a single pane of glass.
  4. Embrace smartphones. You need a call center platform that embraces smartphones. The vast majority of physicians use them, and integrating them with the call center ecosystem allows for things like time-sensitive communication — say, a team alert initiated by an agent about an incoming hip fracture patient — that can actually be monitored to verify that recipients have received and read all necessary information. No more guesswork! And please, whatever you do, make sure to ditch the pagers. No agent wants the page-and-pray technique to be central to their everyday duties.

Clinical call centers — like hospital switchboards, patient transfer centers, and answering services — can have a tremendous impact on everything from care coordination to patient experience to health outcomes. After decades of neglect, it’s time to give them the modern infrastructure they deserve to unleash their true potential.

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