Centralized call centers – a necessity

Categorized as Operations Tagged

At some point in time, call centers used to be a luxury afforded only to larger hospitals. These days – it is a necessity. It’s a whole different business altogether. A business that you, as a provider, never signed up for.

Determine whether you need a centralized call center or not

Advisory board had published an article “Must-Have Upgrades for the Consumer-Focused Health System” that shows the current state of patient access and makes a case of why health systems, primary care and specialists need to make patient access a high priority. They go on to explain why patient consumerism is forcing providers to change the way they do business. 

According to that report

“Access a Major Decision Factor 6 of the top 10 decision drivers are related to access and convenience, when choosing a primary care Physician“.

Also, “42% of consumers report “short travel distance” as a top-three driver when choosing a specialty care provider”

My own healthcare call center experience has taught me that patients are simply not willing to wait.

If you’re not answering their calls within a minute, they are already calling another provider (probably, your competitor).

My experience has been that if a patient does not get an appointment for their desired/convenient dates/times, they will seek another provider or, at the very least, be a no-show.

A centralized call center has its benefits and its pitfalls.

The first step to even begin thinking about a centralized healthcare call center is to judge what your patient access experience looks like.

Try being a patient at your own practice / health system to find out what a typical patient access experience is like.

What call types should a centralized call center handle

The call types your healthcare call center handles depends a lot on your organizational and marketing goals.

When you start planning for a healthcare call center (be it outsourced or in house), create a plan that’s tied to your goals.

Increasing patient access

As patients are becoming more and more demanding, your initial goal might be to increase patient access. 

The ability to answer patient calls within 30 seconds does wonders for your patient satisfaction.

This, in turn, contributes to better practice reputation and increased patient volumes.

Your patients are looking for the first available appointment.

If your current schedule allows for patients to get the first appointment weeks or months from today, you might want to divert those patients to other locations of your health system where an earlier appointment might be available.

Patients do not need / access care only during office hours. 

As years have progressed, patients have become more mobile, more text and chat based.

They are looking to book appointments without having to get on the phone. They are looking to get answers via chat immediately.

Your goal might be to add more communication channels for patients to be able to interact with you.

Maximizing provider, equipment and office utilization

Improving provider utilization and the ability to forecast appointment pipeline + revenues might be your focus at the moment.

To be able to improve provider utilization, you will have to pack more appointments per day, by adjusting for typical no show rates.

This needs your team to make a significant amount of outbound calls to ensure patients truly do show up. 

You would have to invest a lot in outbound calling to ensure that patients are being recalled on a predetermined periodic basis (e.g. once a quarter).

Community outreach calls and community outreach mailers would be another thing to look at, from an investment point of view.

Effectively, this means that you would have to be a lot more proactive about business development for this goal.

I have noticed that typically, organizations just dipping their toes into centralized healthcare call centers start with outbound dialing.

Improving patient experience at your locations with centralized call center

Your goal could also very well be to improve patient experience in your offices.

As discussed before, when the front desk is tasked with multiple responsibilities, patients rarely have a good experience. 

You could decide to have all calls being handled by your centralized call center team.

This would allow your front desk to handle patients, manage patient flow, while your call center team handles incoming calls and triages all calls.

What is your goal with a centralized healthcare call center?

You could decide on a transition of one call type at a time to your call center by making changes to your IVR as well.

Effectively, your business goal will drive the call types and activities that your call center should be handling.

What about KPIs that you need to monitor? Continued…