Commentary

5 Best Practices For Personalizing The Call Center Experience

Healthcare is evolving into a value-based system, with patient satisfaction tied to reimbursements and penalties. And, it’s evolving quicker than you might think. Value-based reimbursement is no longer the future of healthcare, a pilot project, or some far off place where the healthcare system will one day be. That day is today and there are significant financial stakes that hinge on patient satisfaction. 

For example, the Affordable Care Act outlines that CMS (Centers for Medicare and Medicaid services) holds back 1% of reimbursements to hospitals in the U.S. each year. This 1% is redistributed as a reward to top-performing hospitals and taken away from poor performers. Thirty percent of what makes a hospital a top or poor performer is made up of that hospital’s Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS) score. The HCAHPS is a survey given directly to patients that measures their experience at that hospital. It’s a direct measure of patient satisfaction.

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Now, 1% may not sound like a lot, but consider that Medicare payments alone totaled $597 billion in 2014 and that the average hospital in the United States has a profit margin in single digits, if at all. That 1% can literally mean the difference between a great year and a terrible one or even whether a hospital keeps its doors open. The potential financial rewards and consequences around patient satisfaction are very real.

So, now that we know what the stakes are, how can providers improve patient satisfaction? Call centers are one big way to move the needle and can vastly improve a patient’s experience. But, a call center cannot just simply book appointments or give automated reminder calls. That’s not enough, and let’s not call it patient engagement!

Health systems need to have call centers that engage patients throughout their entire journey, providing them with an exceptional experience. Here’s what you need to know to improve the connection:

1. Listen

Call staff should listen closely to patients, ask additional questions if necessary, and offer help based on what the patient has said.

2. Reference previous calls

When speaking to patients who call frequently, call center staff should be able to quickly reference past calls to better determine the patient’s needs.

3. Always follow up

Once a call is over, the conversation should continue. Before ending the call, schedule a time to call the patient for a follow-up of that day’s call, or a reminder call if they are due for an office visit or a prescription renewal.

4. Make the most of patient outreach

Communication is an integral part of the patient care continuum, and patients should be alerted about seasonal immunizations, health events in their community, and screening tests they should have.

Additionally, patients should be contacted for confirmation of their appointment, and if they need to complete any information or documentation before their visit, they should be given what they need so they can arrive prepared.

Call center staff can also connect with patients to collect feedback and improve satisfaction levels.

5. Don’t underestimate post-discharge calls

Post-discharge calls encourage patients to become involved in their own care and can help start relationships with new patients who have received care and been discharged. These follow-up calls also confirm that medication instructions are understood and being followed.

Post-discharge calls can:

· Improve patient adherence to treatment

· Ensure that patients understand instructions

· Increase patient satisfaction

· Allow better coordination of care

Adding these tools to a current call center or investing in a new call center will require significant effort and finances, but it is a worthwhile investment that is in line with where the system is going.

HCAPHS scores are just one sign of the United States transformation to a value-based system where a patient’s opinion and experience matters. The health systems that embrace this new model and treat their patients like valued customers will thrive in this new environment and be rewarded both financially and with better outcomes. And, those who hold onto the old models will not survive in the new healthcare world. The stakes are high.

2 comments about "5 Best Practices For Personalizing The Call Center Experience".
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  1. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, January 22, 2016 at 11:24 p.m.

    That extra 1% can take a hospital in trouble to a hospital that is working well is a sad state of affairs. There is something wrong with this system in the first place. Competition for money for health care is a disaster waiting to happen.

  2. James DiGiorgio from Applied Knowledge, LLC, January 23, 2016 at 3:40 p.m.

    Call centers can be very effective in healthcare, however they are resource intensive and expensive particularly if staffed with clinical personnel.  Technology can help improve the efficiency of call centers and actually improve the ability to engage with patients.  Systems are available to handle many of the types of calls that healthcare call centers make to patients to influence their behavior to make decisions that positively affect their health.  If patients do not do the follow up prescribed by their medical providers, their health will suffer.

    This technology can serve as a tool for call center staff and the system can alert call center staff to personally engage with a patient based on their follow up to digital messaging.  This combination of technology and patient insight allows the call center staff to work at the top of their capabilities and not be overburdened with more routine messaging to patients.

    The right technology can allow call centers to be more productive, work with more patients, reduce the cost of care, and improve patient engagement.

    Jim DiGiorgio
    President
    Applied Knowledge, LLC
    jdigiorgio@akllcconsulting.com
    Tel: 630-219-4118


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