Commentary

Call Centers - Filling The Gaps In The Patient Care Continuum

A report in Healthcare IT News, “Strategies to Maximize Patient Engagement and Retention,” observed that the healthcare industry is evolving to a model where patients are approaching their healthcare as consumers. As a result, patients’ expectations of an “exceptional care experience” are requiring that providers start engaging patients not only during office visits, but throughout the care continuum. To achieve this end, the single most important component is communication. 

Gaps in communication often occur because of time constraints on physicians and office staff. In fact, a study at the University of Missouri’s Sinclair School of Nursing, published in the April/June 2014 issue of Nursing Care Quality, found that clinical staff spends an average of two hours per day making calls to clarify patient medication orders. In addition, it often takes physicians an hour to respond to a voicemail message. 

Patients are feeling the time crunch, too. According to a February 2015 survey by Nuance Communications, “Healthcare from the Patient’s Perspective,” which surveyed over 3,600 patients, more than 30% of them spent less than 10 minutes with their physician during an average visit. Even worse, 40% of patients felt rushed during appointments. 

One way to keep patients engaged and active in their care is by using a nurse-staffed call center to help fill the gaps between office visits. 

Call centers can benefit patients by engaging them across several touchpoints:

  • Being there. If a patient needs a quick evaluation or has a question about a change in their health, a nurse-staffed call center can determine whether or not the situation needs urgent action. For new patients, making it easy to get into the practice’s system by helping them make an appointment or get a referral ensures that the patient’s initial experience is a good one.
  • Following up. When patients leave the office, they are on their own. Wellness calls help reinforce what patients were told during their office visit and can give them clarification on a doctor’s instructions. These calls can also be leveraged as opportunities for education—for instance, sharing an instructional video or article about their condition can help patients stay engaged and on track.
  • Staying connected. Discussing test results and next steps, giving appointment reminders, helping patients keep track of prescription refills, and providing them with guidance all positively affect a patient’s experience with their provider.

According to HIMSS Analytics' 2014 Telemedicine Study, the need to fill care-continuum gaps is what drives providers to adopt telemedicine solutions.

Forty-three percent of respondents to the web-based survey said their primary motivation behind investing in telemedicine tools was filling in gaps. Nearly 16% of those cited the removal of barriers to patient care as their main reason for deciding to use telemedicine.

The Healthcare IT News report noted that gaps most commonly occur when providing patient education, educating newly insured patients, fielding unscheduled appointments, and performing patient follow-up. By using a dedicated call center instead of staff for patient communication, healthcare practices can close communication gaps and leave providers free to focus on the patient care experience.

2 comments about "Call Centers - Filling The Gaps In The Patient Care Continuum ".
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  1. Gordon Jones from West, April 24, 2015 at 1:19 p.m.

    Daniella, you are right on! but further than a clinical call center - what we would actually call a Care Coordination or Patient Access Center - is the incorporation of Natural Language Interactive and preferenced based communications between provider and patient. We are award winning/patent holding, and doing this across the country with some of the most advance health systems like Vanderbilt, Stanford, Partners, etc. if you'd like to talk about it further. DrJ

  2. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, May 2, 2015 at 10:59 a.m.

    A major reason why the time consumption at doctor's offices/medical centers face crunches is that insurance companies - in mulitples - do not train/will not pay their employees to understand what the medical professionals are saying in triplicate. They don't know the difference between a knee orthopedist and a spine specialist or what they do (most recent experience this week and actually worse than that).

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