Healthcare Call Centers: An Essential Component in Improving Patient Experiences


The healthcare call center is a vital cog in the strategic success of the health system

By Mark Dwyer

Throughout my thirty years in the healthcare call center industry, I’ve had the pleasure of working with hundreds of quality individuals. Understandably, many have moved on to other roles or retired. Surprisingly though, a good number are still on the job serving as call center managers and call representatives, ten, twenty, and even thirty years later. These dedicated women and men continue to help their local communities connect with necessary healthcare services.

Last month I visited a local call center and ran into a phone representative I had trained on their initial healthcare call center software back in 1993. And she’s not a lone exception. For years, I’ve had the opportunity to watch a number of call centers expand the functions they offer to their communities, while generating additional revenue for their organizations. Today, more than ever, the healthcare call center is not only a nice to have community service but a vital cog in the strategic success of the health system.

My experience last month made me consider how comforting it must be for long-term callers of a local call center to reach out to the same warm, familiar voice with whom they have spoken to for years. And when local patients call the representative, she’s not just another voice on the phone. Instead she’s someone the caller has come to know and trust, someone who is empathetic to her specific needs and engaged in her care.

Over the past three decades, along with personnel changes, health care call centers have undergone many modifications in the communication methodologies used to interact with patients. Now, the once exclusive phone system has been supplemented by emails, text messages, web chats, social media, and more. Interestingly, despite the addition of these new communication methodologies, as recently as five years ago, results continued to show that telephone calls still represented the favored method of interacting with the call center.

Even more interesting, statistics show that speaking over the phone was still the preferred communication tool among adult cell phone owners who use text messaging.

But times are changing. According to a 2014 Workforce Optimization (WFO) market report by DMG Consulting:

  • The entrance of Millennials into the workforce is driving overdue changes in how people are managed, including innovations in workforce management solutions.
  • Enterprises are finally starting to build multichannel contact centers that handle calls, emails, and SMS, with use of social media expected to grow over the next three to five years.
  • Within five to eight years, DMG predicts the number of social media interactions will equal the number of phone calls.

So whether it’s new hardware technologies, product capabilities or communication tools, call centers continue to evolve to remain focused on the importance of enhancing the patient experience. This is more critical now than at any time in our industry’s past. Today, just a few cryptic messages over social media by a disgruntled patient can severely damage the hospital’s or physician’s reputation. Uplifting the patient experience can, and should, be the goal of every call center interaction whether the call is taken by an operator, referral representative, triage nurse, or care coordinator.

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Mark Dwyer is chief operations officer at LVM Systems, providers of healthcare call center software.