The Healthcare Dichotomy:
How Contact Center Impacts Patient Satisfaction & Attrition – Part 2
By Chris Recio, Director of Contact Center and Advanced Applications
This is part 2 of our Healthcare Dichotomy series. Last week, we covered what the damage in the healthcare world is and the data needed to develop a strategy. The key is to interpret what the data is telling us about operational needs. This week, we find out the true art in analyzing the data and how to apply data to the operation itself.
The first step is to look at the total call volume, including emails and other patient communication options. Then, categorize the data into operational groups. This is likely by clinic or office, but also look at operations within the operation.
Next, break out the data by hourly and 30-minute increments – often referred to as intervals. The key is to look at overall volume, and look at the demands for activity in 30-minute intervals.
This data helps us back into projected staffing requirements to meet the anticipated communication volume. This is based on an expected or allowable level of service performance, or in this case, how quickly should calls be answered that does not place the caller on hold to meet an acceptable level of satisfaction.
Clue: Ask yourself – How long would you tolerate waiting on calls or waiting for a response before you become impatient, hang up, and/or decided to take your business elsewhere?
Once we have the data grouped by operational use and interval, we want to look at the data to identify consistent trends from day to day, week to week, and perhaps month to month.
For example: Most operations are busy Monday morning at about 9am or the time the offices open the communication lines to patients.
Another example: Does the operation experience a spike in activity on the 1st of the month, the 15th of the month, or the last day of the month? This is typically in line with some sort of financial disbursement aka payday for many.
Trends play a critical part of helping any operation develop a staffing strategy. This in turn helps develop a staffing strategy by hour, day of the week, etc. It doesn’t necessarily tell us we need to hire X number of new employees. It is used as a guide as to where we might allocate staff for any given period of time.
This is a great exercise to undertake regardless whether you have a contact center operation or not.
In addition to gathering patient communication volume, such as telephones calls and email, other critical aspects of data to be tracked include:
- Patient attrition
- Patient satisfaction
- Employee turnover
- Employee satisfaction
This data has a direct correlation to the operation’s ability to respond to incoming communication in a timely manner. By gathering statistical data as mentioned above, the cause-and-effect of these data points can assist you in gauging their impact due to inefficient handling of patient communication.
Most every contact center solution offers valuable data points through reporting that can help an operation develop a strategy in managing their influence on the above-mentioned data points to consider. At a minimum, your phone system should at least give you activity details by extension, group, and/or users – should you not have a contact center solution deployed.
While extending programs to gather such data is required, and admittedly programs of this nature take time and effort to deploy, their value to the overall operation and patient satisfaction is an important initiative to undertake. Turning a blind eye to their correlation can result in a never-ending churn of patients, employees, and overall operational dissatisfaction.
Over the years I have worked with clients in healthcare, and despite highlighting the relationship been the data and the possible operational outcome, some have chosen to neglect this data. The result: I have seen a reduction in call volume with one such client from an average of 10,000 calls per month to now 6,000 calls per month. When asked about attrition, it was acknowledged that patient attrition had been persistent, and surprisingly, of the patients that offered feedback, the inability to effortlessly communicate with the office staff was the primary reason many had chosen to take their business elsewhere.
Despite knowing this, no decisions have been made to reorganize the operation in an effort to close the floodgates of patient attrition.
In almost every business where I have had the opportunity to review the operation, I find an all-too-common issue: Understaffing. This is the number #1 reason I find for operational shortfalls.
Oftentimes, there is a lack of correlation to other tasks considered when making staffing decisions. It is rare in healthcare clinics that front-office staff are solely assigned the task of answering calls or emails from patients. This is very true of smaller operations and operations that have not considered patient communication options as part of the overall customer service strategy.
More often front-office staff must also greet and handle patients arriving for appointments, while also maintaining internal support for other staff, nurses, doctors, emails, and telephone calls. This is where the problem is compounded.
As a provider operation grows, so does the need for more staff to dedicate time to individual tasks, which experience heavier demand based on the growth.
A simple rule of thumb, I would suggest, loosely put: Assess what percentage of time is required of an individual that is focused on patient communications (emails and calls).
If patient communication demands require an individual to spend 50% of his/her time with patient calls and other patient communication activities, then you basically have half a body to focus on that work. Keep in mind, this is for example sake. I am attempting to provide a thought process to help you consider how this impacts the use of an individual employee.
Good staffing guidelines and calculators expect a dedicated resource in projecting the number of individuals required to attend the anticipated patient communication volume.
The true art in analyzing the data is in applying the data to the operation itself, and interpreting what that data is telling us about the operational needs.
In my opinion, staffing is the single-most critical aspect of satisfying patient demands where communication (phone calls, email, etc) is considered.
Deciding whether or not a contact center solution is the right course of action for your operation can be a daunting discussion point, especially within a healthcare industry. The thought of a contact center conjures up old-school images of what it means to be a contact center. Adopting a contact center strategy need not look anything like that old-school image.
Understanding how patient communication volume impacts the operational demands of all staff within the healthcare organization is the first step. This involves gathering data and charting trends. This plays an important part of arriving at overall staffing needs.
When considering healthcare, there are some tasks that could be handled by dedicated staff centralizing high-volume needs, such as: requests for appointments, billing questions, claims updates, and the like.
While many operations I encounter point to the “personalized experience of the patient” as the single-most important reason why not to deploy a contact center solution, in my own experience, I am ok having a central person taking my request for an appointment and/or an inquiry into billing, as it feels more clerical in nature.
When I think of the “personalized experience” then I am thinking of the one-to-one in-person experience I get when visiting my healthcare provider for treatment and/or if I need to ask a question of the Physician’s Assistant or Advice Nurse over the phone. That is where I put my foot down in terms of my healthcare experience. When I arrive in an office, I expect to be greeted and I expect to be focused on and not interrupted by other’s calls, etc. This is my time to receive service or treatment. That is personal.
Each operation needs to make its own decisions based on many factors, but, dare I say: If your patients are unhappy with their overall experience, it would be worth the exercise in gathering data to find out what is really happening within your operation. If you don’t know what your patients think and/or what they are saying, that’s a very important piece of information to elicit in order to really gauge the pulse of your operation – and this case – patient satisfaction.