Developing the Role of Call Centers in Coordinated Care

By Charu Raheja, PhD

While there is no crystal ball we can look into to see how healthcare will be managed in the future, there are several clues that may provide a glimpse of the direction we should look and move.

In optimal circumstances, coordinated care is a well-accepted practice for providing quality healthcare. Unfortunately, conditions are not yet optimal, making truly coordinated health services a struggling endeavor. However, with proper planning and implementation, health call centers may be the unifying solution in the future.

Much has been written on the barriers to coordinated care and how a lack of communication, coupled with technological deterrents, remains at the top of the barrier list. In order to be effective, coordinated care requires convenient and timely communication between all parties, as well as the cost-effective and efficient access to a variety of technology channels. Fortunately, those channels are readily available and primed for effective use. All that is needed is a nucleus that organizes and shares pertinent patient information with all the members of the healthcare team.

Call Center Nucleus: By definition, a call center is “an office set up to handle a large volume of telephone calls, especially for taking orders and providing customer service.” Technology has changed the call center landscape whereby an increasing number of agents work from home rather than in a central office. But, the focus on customer service remains a primary characteristic. In fact, as customer expectations rise, call centers that emphasize agent training and performance are more likely to create better customer service experiences and become leaders in their field. Considering their position in numerous company processes, it’s not surprising that telephone agents can make or break an enterprise.

Call center agents play an integral part in every aspect of the business they represent. They are the primary channels between customers and the products or services they desire. They initiate orders and services, they are involved in quality control and customer satisfaction, and they share feedback and information between the company, suppliers, and customers. They are the hub on which all processes rely. As such, it is crucial that call centers stay up-to-date on business and consumer trends in order to be successful.

Trending Expectations: As the Internet provided consumers and patients with instant and easy access to a plethora of information, consumer expectations have risen dramatically. People now demand quality service from all sources. They are more likely than ever to quit doing business with a company that provides a poor customer experience. Trends indicate that customers and patients use online reviews, social media, and Internet searches to help determine where to do business. They want instant, 24-hour access to assistance and care, respect for their time, and multiple forms of communication, including Websites, online chat, email, text messaging, and mobile apps.

Coordinated care faces these same expectations from patients and their families, as well as the doctors, hospitals, and other professionals involved in patient care. The two main issues plaguing coordinated care have been the difficulties in 1) getting everyone involved to communicate and 2) developing cost-effective technology that can connect the myriad of electronic health information that exists across various platforms.

Solving these issues requires a standardized viaduct of information that can efficiently collect, analyze, distribute, and store patient data in a safe, convenient manner. While development of a software program that completes these functions is ideal, the numerous variables involved make it a daunting task. However, utilizing current resources and systems that are available and adaptable to business and consumer trends can help fill the gaps in coordinated care.

Coordinated Care Hub: Some triage call centers are already involved in numerous aspects of patient care and data sharing. They collect patient information, provide health-related protocols, inform physicians of patient issues, and assist in distributing appropriate information to approved members of the healthcare team. Those that are progressive focus on training their nurse representatives to provide quality customer service while following current trends in technology to reach patients and providers.

It would not be inconceivable to expand the role of health call centers so they serve as the communication conduit between all parties. Already, they provide a common language, can easily transmit information using numerous formats, and can store patient data received from healthcare providers and the patients themselves. This will require new data collection, updated procedures, additional training and staff time, and other adjustments. The potential benefits of expanding the role of call centers to serve as coordinated care intermediaries are definitely worth appraising in today’s dynamically evolving health care environment.

Future Care: It is important we recognize how the use of call centers has grown in the past decade and continues to expand. Additionally, the increasing need and demand for a coordinated process of patient care persists. If we recognize these developments as indicators of future trends, combining them to create a feasible solution to coordinated care issues may make for a healthier future.

Without a crystal ball, it is hard to say whether call centers will expand their role in coordinated care, but the “Magic 8 Ball” says “Outlook Good.”

Charu G. Raheja, PhD, is the CEO and chair of TriageLogic, a URAC accredited company offering web-based telephone triage software and nurse triage services. With a national footprint, TriageLogic has been providing affordable triage solutions for almost ten years for use in institutions and private practices.

[From the December 2013/January 2014 issue of AnswerStat magazine]