Do you know how easy it is for patients to navigate your organization? When they call to schedule appointments, are they kept on hold only to be transferred to a phone tree? Or, do they reach a live person who is knowledgeable about appointment availability and can rapidly fit them in the schedule within the next two weeks?
If you can’t answer these questions—or if the answers do not paint a positive patient experience—then perhaps it’s time to rethink your patient-access function. If patients find it challenging to interact with your organization, they may choose not to, delaying wellness visits and proactive care, and ultimately opting to go elsewhere when they need help.
According to a recent survey of hospitals, executives, payers, and consumers, 72% of providers feel consumer-centric strategies are important, with 25% investing in them and nearly 90% making related staffing changes. Yet despite this commitment, more than 70% of consumers indicate their experience with providers and payers has not improved, and some indicated it’s actually gotten worse.
Patients are looking for convenient access, service expedience, and a personalized touch, all for the best price. These demands are not coming out of the blue: Patients receive this kind of service in other areas of their life, such as shopping, banking, booking travel, and so on. They expect their healthcare providers to step up and be more like other service industries; fast, efficient, and customer-focused.
Unfortunately, the current staffing models in some healthcare organizations are not conducive to patient-centered dynamics. Registration and front desk staff juggle multiple duties, such as checking patients in, asking for payment, answering phones, and more. When staff have too many priorities, they cannot focus on any one thing and do it well.
Call centers can be effective at better meeting patient needs. By centralizing patient access functions like pre-registration, financial clearance, and scheduling, an organization can see dramatic improvement—in some cases an ROI of three to one. A call center team can improve resource efficiency, maximize productivity, and reduce missed appointments and cancellations. By using defined scripts and procedures, there can be more call consistency, leading to predictable, repeatable experiences no matter where patients enter an organization.
Setting up a high-performing call center is not without its challenges. Recruiting the right staff, building the necessary technology infrastructure, and regularly monitoring calls for quality assurance take a lot of time and resources. It may be hard to find and retain qualified staff, and it can be difficult to scale programs depending on call volume. As a result, you can still see poor patient satisfaction scores, rapid staff turnover, significant denial rates due to poor workflow, process issues or staffing problems, and long patient wait times, even though you are committed to a centralized approach.
To reap the benefits of a call center while overcoming the hurdles of creating one, you may want to consider outsourcing to a partner that specializes in delivering highly responsive customer care (such as the Change Healthcare Patient Access Advocate program). You’d want one that provides multilingual patient service representatives who are intensely screened and continually trained to meet rigorous quality standards, which are regularly verified through key metrics like on-hold time and first-call resolution.
The proper staff can optimize physician schedules and implement an overbooking-avoidance strategy based on industry best practices that maximize revenue without negatively impacting patient satisfaction. You should also look for a company that offers scalability, easily ramping up resources during high-traffic periods and emergencies.
Finally, look for a partner that is not tied to a specific geographic region, so they can pull customer service experts from a wider staffing pool around the country while also establishing infrastructure in lower-cost locations, ultimately saving you money.
In the end, even if you are investing in the patient experience, are you confident those dollars are making a difference? What does your data tell you ? Is the information accurate and reliable? If so, are patients saying your organization is consistently accessible? Or, are they indicating things could be better?
It’s critical that any strategies you pursue are guided by well-tested data to be sure you are moving in the right direction and truly addressing patient needs. By responding to the data and implementing a robust, patient-centric call center, you can move the needle on the patient experience and improve the value you deliver in the process.
Keith Slater is vice president of Patient Access Services at Change Healthcare.