Imagine for a moment that you are a patient at your own health system, and you want to schedule an appointment, ask a question about your treatment plan, or request a referral. Visit the contact page of your health system’s website. What do you see?
Some of you will find a general 800 number that either routes you to one of those byzantine automated selection menus or leads to a call service rep or central operator who doesn’t know who you are, what you need, or how to route your query. Others will be faced by a webpage filled with a dense collection of numbers for a myriad of departments, professional practices, and clinics, leaving you overwhelmed and confused about who to call for what.
Now, pick up the phone and see if you get the information you need on the first try…
The point of this thought experiment is that you as a health system have made considerable financial investments in technology and training in order to create a patient-centric healthcare experience that provides excellent healthcare services spanning the continuum of care, but thanks to call center quagmires your patients are frustrated and dissatisfied before they even walk through the door.
Patient access centers are legitimate business departments and have an important role to play in the transition to value-based, patient-centric care. They have the potential to create new streams of revenue. They can engender loyalty to your brand. Most importantly, access centers are a critical first impression that ultimately determines whether a patient chooses to purchase healthcare services from your system.
Unfortunately, for too many health systems, access centers are an afterthought — or worse, completely neglected.
Patients are Consumers
Just like you, your health system’s patients are consumers who shop at Amazon, purchase airline tickets, and stay at hotels for business and pleasure. They’ve grown accustomed to a concierge-level of customer service, and this has altered their perceptions of what a high-quality healthcare experience should look like. The retail world has decades of experience with providing this level of service, and have leveraged modern technology to make constant improvements to help differentiate their brand, as well as retain and grow their customer base. The healthcare industry is just starting to catch on—not just because it makes good business sense, but also because they are now being incented/penalized to implement value-based care throughout the patient experience.
The modern healthcare consumer has more choices than ever before, and are seeking long-term relationships with their providers. The trick for health systems is finding an efficient and cost-effective way of:
- Properly routing inbound calls using an intelligent, data-accessible system (patient-to-provider);
- Determining patient communication preferences for outbound contacts (provider-to-patient).
Hospitals and health systems have been doing scheduling and automated appointment reminders for years. However, these transactions only account for 20 to 30 percent of inbound and outbound calls.
The model patient access center should be doing a lot more than that. Your access center should drive revenue and patient satisfaction; reduce no-shows and time spent by caregivers on reaching patients; and eliminate the need for patients to fish around for answers to their questions.
If your airline carrier knows your preferred seating arrangement and upcoming flights; if your hotel’s concierge knows your preferred floor and newspaper, then why doesn’t your health system have access to patient data as soon as they call?
After authentication of the patient’s identity, an intelligent patient access platform should have, based on the health system’s defined business rules, real-time access to:
- Upcoming and past appointments
- Education and patient record materials in the system’s EMR and patient portal
- Intelligent routing to be best available advocate, scheduling agent, care coordinator or case manager, based on patient data and what is known about that patient at that point in time
- The patients’ preferred modes of communication (landline, mobile phone, text, e-mail, etc.)
Even if you don’t leverage live call center representatives, forget about automated menu options. Intelligent access platforms can emulate a live agent for many of these basic functions, leaving live agents to handle the more complex transactions, allowing them to maximize their value to your organizations and to the patients / providers they engage each day.
The goal of contact centers should be to make the patient experience as easy as possible through both personalization and self-service—striving for that perfect balance between automation and a live, human-touch interaction.
Your health system has invested considerable time, energy and money to provide value across the continuum of care. Why squander it over a bad first impression? The nature of each patient call may vary, but everyone is essentially asking one of two questions: will patients buy healthcare from your system or will thye buy healthcare again from your health system?