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Help for calls: Is your patient phone strategy in need of a call center?

By Chris Harrop
July 20, 2017
Body of Knowledge Domain(s): Human Resource Management, Patient-Centered Care

Every encounter an existing or prospective patient has with a medical practice via phone call has the potential to leave a lasting impression about the organization.

As Kristin Baird, MHA, RN, MGMA member, chief executive officer, Baird Group, noted in a recent MGMA Connection magazine feature (member access), the adoption of the CAHPS Clinician and Group Survey (CG-CAHPS) increases the importance of patient satisfaction to healthcare administrators.

Now consider how many areas of patient satisfaction could be affected by your phone call strategies: Scheduling, reminders, test results and much more are still being completed via phone in practices across the country.

A March 27 MGMA Stat poll suggests that practices vary in their approaches to handling incoming calls. Most respondents (52%) said that a staff member answers incoming calls, while 42% said an automated phone tree guides callers through different options. Baird’s research suggests that potential patients who reach a live attendant when they call are 1.5 times more likely to return to the facility.

For some practices, establishing a call center can be a step toward improving practice efficiency, increasing patient access to appointments and tightening your referral network, as noted in an ACMPE Fellow paper, “Centralizing Customer Calls – The Development and Operation of a Healthcare Call Center,” by Clarice Bongiovanni, RN, FACMPE, MGMA member, director, LPG Contact Center, Lee Memorial Health System, Cape Coral, Fla.

“More and more health systems are using their call centers as a competitive advantage,” Bongiovanni wrote. “Competition in the marketplace will increase and continue to put pressure on call centers to deliver excellent customer service.”

Bongiovanni notes that assembling a task force from the areas of the practice most affected by phone calls – administration, customer service, information technology, finance, human resources and telecommunications, among others – is an excellent first step in bringing together stakeholders to evaluate the effectiveness of current phone strategies and identify areas of improvement to be targeted by adoption of a call center.

At the MGMA 2017 Annual Conference, a trio of leaders from All Children’s Hospital, St. Petersburg, Fla. — Erin Hamilton-Mullin, JD, MHA, MGMA member, academic program director; Gerrit VanBruggen, MGMA member, clinical business operations director; and Mary Ellen Stefanick, MBA, director, call center – will share their experience in adding a call center to All Children’s during the “Building a Better Call Center” session Oct. 10 at the Anaheim Convention Center, Anaheim, Calif.

As ambulatory business operations director, VanBruggen leads services on 12 campuses with more than 275,000 visits annually. In the past two years, he has focused his attention on building an ambulatory delivery model focused on access and customer service. Along with Hamilton-Mullin’s background in Lean process improvement and Stefanick’s 30 years in healthcare, All Children’s instituted a call center with 40 employees in both clinical and non-clinical programs.

With a call volume of 750,000 per year inbound and outbound, the call center’s services include an after-hours nurse triage program and daytime access line. The call center also acts as the centralized depot for all in-house physician consults, and the hospital’s switchboard also falls under the call center.

Their session will outline steps All Children’s Hospital took to streamline the phone process for scheduling and practice operations, including:

  • Forming a team to tackle the project
  • Making changes to the scheduling EHR and communication between practices and scheduling
  • Adding an orientation for schedulers at the practice and other training sessions for phone staff

The session is available for ACMPE, CPE and CEU credit. Learn more about MGMA continuing education credits.

Chris Harrop, senior editorial manager, Publications, MGMA

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