The Healthcare Dichotomy:
How Contact Center Impacts Patient Satisfaction & Attrition – Part 1
By Chris Recio, Director of Contact Center and Advanced Applications
This is part 1 of a two-part guide covering the healthcare dichotomy, the damage and the data needed to develop a strategy. The key is to interpret what the data is telling us about operational needs. Next week, we’ll find out the true art in analyzing the data and how to apply data to the operation itself.
Healthcare is a very personal issue for most everyone. The high-touch demands and attentiveness to patient needs are critical to the ongoing success of any healthcare provider, especially as healthcare continues to expand and grow.
Once small clinics and operations are now combining efforts and morphing into larger operations unto themselves. As more individuals look for a healthcare provider to call home, the demands on the healthcare operation becomes a Catch-22 of sorts.
As more patients are realized, the demands placed on in-office staff require more direct and ongoing contact as patients come in and out throughout the day. As the patient pool begins to widen, so do the needs for making contact with the healthcare provider to book appointments, follow up on claims, seek advice from a nurse, or simply to communicate with the healthcare staff.
Many if not most clinic front-office staff have a dual responsibility: assisting patients and staff alike while also attending to telephone calls and other patient communication needs, such as email inquiries. With this increased need for contact and patient management, the math is simple:
More patients arriving in an office or clinic for personal care = Less available time front-office staff have for answering patient calls or emails in a timely manner.
This is the Catch-22 that stunts growth, impacts staff morale, and most importantly, has a direct impact on patient satisfaction and ultimately patient attrition.
Certain industries frown when considering Contact Center solutions as a viable option. But ultimately, there are two possible options that can be considered:
- Hire more staff in the clinical office to handle client calls & emails, or
- Deploy a Contact Center solution strategy
Assessing the best strategy for your operation requires that you take a good, hard look at several layers of the operation to gauge the ramifications your operation might be experiencing due to continued growth and the resulting patient demands.
If you look closely, you will likely find a deep layer of symptoms all associated with patient needs and resulting general operational turmoil. Ignoring these signs likely will result in patient attrition due to service dissatisfaction, along with lessening employee morale and retention.
Common symptoms include:
- Receptionist/Switchboard frustration and job dissatisfaction
- Tone of voice when answering calls
- Curt messaging when intercepting calls
- Interoffice communication deterioration
- The blame game
- Call avoidance
- Increased short call volume
- Increased short transfer volume
- Increased bounce back of transferred calls
- Increased voicemail volume
- General frustration across the operation
- Increased staff turnover
- Increased patient attrition
Taking an honest look at and acknowledging some of these tell-tale signs will help you in your short-term assessment and in developing a long-term strategy. There is no one easy answer, unfortunately.
However, dedicating time to assessing where your operation currently stands will go a long way in highlighting how you might develop a strategy to resolve many – if not most – of these operational symptoms.
If any or all the above symptoms are apparent within your operation, the first place to start is in understanding the actual day-to-day call demands. While we are stating calls here, it is important to look at all the differing ways in which patients contact the facility: phone call, email, messaging, etc. We need to quantify what is occurring operationally. This helps paint a story of the otherwise unseen and this needs to be looked at from all possible angles.
A good rule of thumb in any operation – in my opinion – can be summed up with this mantra:
REPORTING, REPORTING, REPORTING
The underlying need here is in addressing staffing. We want to understand current demands so we can back into staffing requirements. This will help us assess how the performance shortfalls may be impacting other areas of the operation not directly related to calls, but rather, how performance bottlenecks might be impacting morale, workload, and the actions individuals may take as a result.
Here is a scenario with a recent operation that is all-too-common when working within many healthcare clients.
All calls come into a general reception area or switchboard for triage. Once the receptionist understands the patient need, the call is then redirected or transferred to the appropriate destination, usually the clinic or specialty office for an appointment. The patient then experiences either ringing, a quick answer with a request to be placed on hold, queue hold music, an option for voicemail after a waiting period of time, or the call bounces back to the receptionist/switchboard since the call was not answered by the transfer destination.
The impact to all parties typically manifests itself in many levels of dissatisfaction:
- Patient Frustration due to lengthy hold times or multiple transfers.
- Clinic Frustration due to handling clients in office and in person while also attempting to manage the inbound call traffic. Often the call gets ignored in favor of assisting another patient standing in front of him/her or is placed on hold for extended periods of time. Many systems will return the call to the transferring destination or the switchboard as a stop gap so calls are not forgotten.
- Receptionist frustration in handling calls that had already been sent to a destination that bounce back. This creates double the work for the receptionist, while also impacting work morale. Typically, the receptionist is now handling a dissatisfied client and must seek alternate means in assisting the client.
- Interoffice communication suffers as perceptions about roles and responsibilities are mismanaged and ill perceived.
- Ultimately, employee morale suffers and this may impact employee retention.
In the above scenario, the important data to review is:
- Total call volume by interval
- Total calls transferred to each destination
- Total calls answered by each destination
- Total calls bounced back to reception
- Avg Hold Time in local offices
- Abandoned calls
- Repeat callers
So here’s the damage and the data we need, but how do we put the two together? Fortunately, it’s not as complicated as you might think. The key is to interpret what the data is telling us about operational needs. With the right data, you can find solutions to make your communications a snap. Tune in next week and find out the true art in analyzing the data and how to apply data to the operation itself.