Worker shortages and the need to optimize schedules to boost revenues have several medical groups and health systems calling for help — in the form of improved phone systems, patient communications platforms and contact centers.
A Jan. 3, 2023, MGMA Stat poll found that 38% of medical groups plan to optimize or implement major changes to phone systems or contact centers in 2023, while 62% do not. The poll had 508 applicable responses.
Some of the major changes slated for the year ahead include:
- Implementing new call centers or centralized scheduling across new locations, requiring updates to existing phone systems
- A switch to new systems that integrate with the group’s existing EHR or automate call routing
- Implementation of robo-calls for screening reminders
- Addition of a cloud-based phone system and new soft-phones for remote workers
- Embracing new answering services or the use of artificial intelligence (A.I.) for incoming calls and eliminating front office voicemail
- Additional reliance on A.I. transcription of phone calls/voicemail for easier review and triage
- New voicemail options for prescription refills and lab results
- Outsourcing of after-hours patient engagement to offshore companies to help schedule patients and handle prior authorizations.
Doing more with less
There are several reasons why medical groups and health systems might choose to make these types of changes to their phone systems and contact centers. For one, these technologies can help to alleviate the burden on medical staff by automating routine tasks and allowing them to focus on more important tasks. These systems can help to reduce wait times and improve the overall patient experience by providing faster and more efficient communication channels.
As ECG Management Consulting’s Steve McMillen, MHA, principal; and Anna Berenbeym, MBA, manager, detail in their January 2023 MGMA Connection magazine article, there have been three primary strategies to boost volumes and revenues while expediting patient communication:
- Strategy 1: Implement patient self-service tools — Give patients the opportunity to independently take care of their health needs at their convenience.
- Strategy 2: Reduce touches per appointment — Operational improvements can eliminate extra work for staff.
- Strategy 3: Expand patient outreach — Contacting the patient before the patient needs to contact their care provider can minimize extra work and urgent patient care coordination.
The authors describe being able to reduce pre-access staffing needs from 10% to 25% with efficiencies gained in areas such as appointment scheduling, care team communication, referral ordering and management, and prescription requests.
As McMillen and Berenbeym write:
“Using a combination of refined workflows, added services, and supplemental communication channels, contact centers can reduce their incoming calls to best practice levels. Tactics may include:
- Implementing a robust internal knowledge management system that allows representatives to answer care-related and administrative questions and schedule appointments without messaging the clinic
- Instituting open appointment availability with minimal scheduling restrictions
- Expanding centralized services to include nurse triage, after-hours answering service, referral coordination, and prescription refill support to promote first-call resolution and avoid phone tag between the contact center, practice, and patient
- Adding communication channels beyond the phone, such as chat, chatbot, patient portal and e-visits to expedite requests.”
Read the full article from MGMA Connection magazine for more suggestions on template optimization, point-of-service scheduling and more.
Optimizing contact center responsiveness with the right tools
In a new article for MGMA, Poly | HP Lead Telehealth Advisor Billy J. Sample outlines common areas to begin addressing issues with in-house contact/call centers, including the measurement of relevant performance indicators:
“Healthcare organizations with in-house call centers don’t always monitor calls or track call metrics from a ‘customer service’ or patient experience perspective. Many health system executives don’t realize they have problems, such as issues with their sound quality, until revenue shortfalls and patient satisfaction scores show otherwise. By proactively researching and deploying technology that improves the communication experience, it can make patients feel more engaged during interactions with providers and customer service representatives, thus improving overall patient satisfaction scores.”
Sample notes that it’s commonplace for systems to centralize scheduling staff to improve productivity, but there typically are more efforts needed to run a successful, efficient contact center amid growing patient demands and the need to connect more providers across multiple locations and remote work stations.
“Patient service representatives (PSRs), the healthcare equivalent of customer service representatives, are now the healthcare systems’ front line for patient interaction,” Sample writes.
To ensure their success, Sample recommends ensuring all PSRs are using the right equipment for high audio and video quality, including headsets that can work seamlessly across multiple platforms and visible/updatable to cloud management systems.
He also emphasizes the need to build culture and camaraderie across the team to forge meaningful connections on teams that are hybrid or remote.
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