Strengthen Relationships, Deepen Understanding, and Drive Revenue with Effective On-Hold Programs

By Kara Tarantino

Healthcare providers and hospital call centers rely on the phone to connect people to their services, so it is important to consider the impact the phone has on the total patient experience during times when people wait on hold. The experience patients have with their hospital begins with the first phone call and is colored by every phone call after that. Now, more than ever, hospitals are being evaluated on the perception of the quality of care they provide, and this perception is measured by patient satisfaction surveys and then displayed on Medicare’s Hospital Compare Website.

It is conceivable that one bad experience while waiting on hold, no matter how short, could change a patient’s perception of how she was treated during her entire hospital stay. This, combined with other less than optimal experiences, can ultimately affect hospital reimbursement and the bottom line. Hospitals now know that every voice counts – and so does every ear.

What can hospitals do to provide a better caller experience? The answer lies in twelve simple steps to maximize caller engagement with the right on-hold messaging. Ensuring callers are informed, entertained, and valued will go a long way towards providing a positive and satisfying total patient experience.

  1. Establish a rapport from the first call by demonstrating you value your callers’ time.
  2. Provide relevant and current information that encourages behavior change.
  3. Give your callers something to do, like make an appointment or register for a screening.
  4. Keep your callers interested to prevent hang-ups and drive them to your competition.
  5. Educate your community on your other services. They may be unaware you provide these services.
  6. Establish trust that you are a valuable health resource and not just a place to go to in times of sickness.
  7. Adapt your messaging to audiences who call in frequently, such as employees.
  8. Use messages to achieve specific goals, like recruiting for clinical trials.
  9. Track response by using dedicated phone numbers and targeted Website addresses.
  10. Spark interest with humor and entertaining audio formats.
  11. Have your leadership personally speak to callers to demonstrate that your commitment to quality care begins at the top.
  12. Measure results via your call center when you gather new patient information and ask how they heard about you.

Your calling audience is made up of listeners. Callers to hospitals and physician practices are often stressed, anxious, and needing reassurance. Your messages should be written for the ear, relevant, and interesting so they can be easily recalled. They need to take health literacy standards into consideration so people can understand what they are hearing and easily act upon the information. When you take each caller into consideration, it is possible to alter the perception of your quality of care.

The Emory HealthConnection call center in Atlanta does an excellent job of capitalizing on the opportunity to connect with callers via on-hold messaging and change the perception of the healthcare waiting experience. They are consistently successful in recruiting candidates for clinical trials, referring callers to physicians, setting appointments, and increasing event and program registration. The marketing department’s efforts are buoyed by the cost-effectiveness of the medium, the on-hold messaging system’s ease of use and flexibility, the high visibility afforded to their services and events, and the ease of fixing mistakes with little cost (unlike print, radio, or TV advertising.)

A holistic approach to quality care that includes addressing the needs of callers placed on hold can help hospitals redefine the patient experience, which is so critical to improving patient satisfaction scores. With the right communication tools, hospitals and other healthcare providers can ensure optimal patient engagement and further their strategic initiatives when they use relevant patient education, compassionate messaging, wit, humor, and messages in the voices of leadership. When you begin by addressing the needs of your callers, the right on-hold messaging system sets the stage for communicating more effectively with every person along the care continuum. In the end, the most successful healthcare providers will be those that consider every ear and every voice.

Kara Tarantino has led marketing at Vericom Corporation for 18 of its 24 years, diligently working to help clients improve the patient and employee experience with more effective internal communication. A results-driven strategic marketer with 25 years in the healthcare industry, Kara is passionate about bringing health literacy messaging mainstream and developing content for healthcare audiences that can positively affect patient behavior.

[From the August/September 2013 issue of AnswerStat magazine]