How to Structure Your Healthcare Call Center for Success

By Stewart Gandolf
Chief Executive Officer

In the healthcare industry, growth happens because of a positive and meaningful patient experience.

Multiple old school red phones hanging from the ceiling.

Yes, digital marketing and advertising help bring people in, but patient satisfaction develops after that first phone call.

Patients are real people who need effective communication during every stage of the patient journey. When ethical marketing efforts convince potential customers to pick up the phone and call your practice, the staff on the other end of that call must be ready to guide the person on a positive path.

We’ve written a lot about staff training and call strategy here on our blog. But today we’re focusing on call center strategy — especially as it relates to enterprise and multi-location organizations.

Today’s top healthcare organizations are modernizing their call centers by moving from legacy, on-premises technologies to complete contact centers in the cloud. But the moving parts are complicated and can get confusing quickly for larger organizations.

To understand the strategy and requirements, I turned to Kathy Divis, president and co-founder of Greystone.net. Kathy specializes in healthcare-focused call centers and their integration with the web and other cloud-based solutions. She’s the expert people call to help migrate that old on-premises legacy system to the modern platform.

If you’re ready to glean the takeaways, I’ve listed here top tips for designing a successful healthcare call center with new patients in mind.

But before we get into strategy, here’s a primer on traditional call centers and why an upgrade should be in your 2021 budget:

The Modern Healthcare Call Center

Call centers have changed over the years. Today, they’re mostly called contact centers and can be tailored to the needs of your organization.

What is a modern contact center? It’s usually in the cloud or connected to the internet. It’s also integrated with email, web chat, texting, video, and core telephony functions, such as marketing and scheduling. The goal is for agents to engage with new and existing patients via their preferred channel.

Some companies go for a web portal added to their on-premises contact center, while others make the full transition from legacy to cloud.
What is your current technology? Is it working? What technology should you use, and how does it fit with the features you want?

Getting Buy-In for Modern Technology

Most companies are still trying to get their ROI on their legacy systems, let alone move to modern technology. If your organization is still giving push-back for upgrading your call center, we understand. This happens all the time.

Modernizing call centers in the healthcare industry always comes with politics from stakeholders, including doctors, staff, and leadership. If you find yourself in this category, you’re not alone. Understanding the benefits and features of a modern contact center along with the strategy tips below, will help you build a solid case for making the transition.

The Features and Benefits of a Modernized Contact Center

Features

  • Cloud-based or single platform: Get rid of hardware installation and costs of maintaining a legacy system.
  • Healthcare industry integrations: The best call centers today are online and integrated with CRMs, medical billing, EHRs, and other technology, all designed to exceed patient expectations.
  • Omnichannel support: Communicate with patients via email, voice recording, text message, and more. Omnichannel also indicates a contact center is integrated with your website and social media efforts.
  • Industry-specific compliance: HIPPA, PCI, and GDPR, you name it, and you don’t have to worry about it.
  • Precision call routing: Access smart call routing systems to quickly transfer calls to the right departments and agents.
  • Advanced analytics: It’s essential to measure your patient experience by real data that you can then analyze and improve on. Real-time analytics can also help you manage agent performance.

Benefits

  • Scalable – Grows as your practice or organization grows.
  • Cost savings
  • Improved agent productivity
  • Self-services for patients
  • Better access to care for patients
  • Improved patient satisfaction and retention
  • Enhanced scheduling experience

Six Healthcare Call Center Best Practices for New Patients

The idea to improve your patient experience isn’t new. But moving to a better and more cost-effective call center might seem new and overwhelming. If the competition wasn’t enough, the global pandemic has added urgency to this transition, as hospitals and multi-location physician practices scramble to make the switch.

Here are six healthcare call center best practices to consider:

  1. Identify and document your goals. According to Kathy, it’s vital to begin any strategy by understanding the project goals. How do you envision your operations going forward? What are you trying to achieve? If you have an ageing, on-premises system, for example, you’ll need more help determining how to transfer from the older model to a modern solution. With these questions answered, you can then start thinking about the challenges and barriers to those goals. With your goals defined and the obstacles identified, you can seek out technology and solutions that solve those problems and meet your goals.
  2. Start the migration in small steps. If your organization is reluctant to upgrade your contact center, Kathy recommends introducing it via a stepped process. For example, if a multi-site company has five or six call centers, start with the first one and wait for successful results. It’s easier to migrate to a modern solution if you do it one piece at a time.
  3. Provide proper onboarding. Proper onboarding is crucial when bringing in new staff. Kathy suggests training staff on all aspects of the legacy system and its protocols. For example, train staff on how to pronounce doctor names and on basic customer service protocols. They should know and have access to relevant information, such as location information or benefits coverage.
    • Next, develop an ongoing training program that keeps staff up to date on what’s happening within the organization and within the contact center system. Agents will stay engaged and excited about their jobs.
  4. Separate your staff by expertise. In the podcast, Kathy shares that one of the biggest mistakes people make with contact centers is having their agents handle all types of inbound calls. Instead, she recommends organizing and separating staff in pods of expertise.
    • For new patients, this means having trained staff that only handle new patient inquiries and communications. You can also group staff based on their expertise in healthcare conditions, such as a pod of agents who only handle cardiology or radiology scheduling.
  5. Monitor quality assurance. Quality management is very important for contact centers. Ideally, calls are recorded. And if they are, the manager or supervisor needs to listen in on calls and have a scorecard to rate the quality. Possible scorecard elements include how they answer the phone, how they address people, and following established guidelines. Other examples of quality assurance include an agent’s ability to resolve problems or address requests.
  6. Share performance reports and analytics. A contact center manager should communicate their successes and failures. It’s also important to communicate outcomes, such as the volume of calls, average speed to answer, abandonment rates, and so on. This information is valuable to staff and helps managers identify and provide additional training opportunities.

A modern, healthcare contact center varies depending on the type of organization. In the podcast, Kathy shares how many organizations have barely started the migration from old legacy systems. In contrast, others have already embraced cloud contact centers that integrate with healthcare CRM, medical billing, and EHRs.

Regardless of where your organization is on the spectrum, there are important contact center features that all patients expect today.

If you’d like to learn more about how you can upgrade, we recommend contacting Kathy directly.

Stewart Gandolf
Chief Executive Officer at Healthcare Success
Stewart Gandolf, MBA, is Chief Executive Officer of Healthcare Success, one of the nation's leading healthcare and digital marketing agencies. Over the past 20 years, Stewart has marketed and consulted for over 1,000 healthcare clients, ranging from practices and hospitals to multi-billion dollar corporations. A frequent speaker, Stewart has shared his expertise at over 200 venues nationwide. As an author and expert resource, Stewart has also written for many leading industry publications, including the 21,000 subscriber Healthcare Success Insight blog. Stewart also co-authored, "Cash-Pay Healthcare: Start, Grow & Perfect Your Cash-Pay Healthcare Business." Stewart began his career with leading advertising agencies, including J. Walter Thompson, where he marketed Fortune 500 clients such as Wells Fargo and Bally's Total Fitness.

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