The Medical Call Centers’ Role in Telemedicine

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, Ph.D.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, Publisher and Editor of AnswerStat

AnswerStat magazine was present at the recent American Telemedicine Association (ATA) 2008 Annual Meeting. The event was held April 6-8 in Seattle Washington. Over 2,200 attendees were treated to a plethora of educational and informative presentations, as well as a packed trade show with more than 160 telemedicine vendors.

In addition to covering the event, AnswerStat magazine sponsored a half-day, educational session, entitled “The Medical Call Centers’ Role in Telemedicine.” Peter Lyle DeHaan, publisher of AnswerStat, served as the event’s moderator.

The course faculty included a stellar group of industry experts, including:

  • Peter Dehnel, MD, medical director at Children’s Health Network Triage Service in Minneapolis MN
  • Carol M. Stock, JD, MN, RN, principal at Carol M. Stock & Associates in Seattle, WA
  • Lois Scott, RN, BScN, MN, vice president for McKesson Canada, from Moncton, NB, Canada
  • Marlene Grasser, RN, regional sales director for LVM Systems, Inc., which is based in Mesa, AZ

Dr. Peter Dehnel started the day’s instruction with his presentation, “From Telephone to Telemedicine and Beyond…” In covering his topic, Dr Dehnel looked at the past in order to understand the present and envision the future.

Among many other talking points, he used two gripping analogies to give perspective. First, he asked us to recall a 60s muscle car. Although impressive and enviable at the time, it no longer possesses the same panache. As such, our industry is changing. Our industry must change. There are cost increases to manage and new technologies to embrace.

Secondly, he used the relative safety of air travel to point out that six sigma is not enough; one hundred percent accuracy is essential – both in air travel and in healthcare. Standardization can be implemented to result in increased reliability and greater accuracy.

Next up was Carol Stock who covered “Legal, Regulatory, and Licensure Compliance for a Successful Medical Call Center.” Carol pointed out that laws often lag behind technology and the current reality in which call centers find themselves. This requires diligence and thoughtful planning in how we implement technology today in the absence of guiding regulation. For call centers that handle calls from multiple states, nurse licensing – a state-by-state requirement – offers an added challenge that must be addressed. She also discussed HIPAA and call recording legalities, as well as emerging technologies, such as live nurse chat.

The “Evolution and Future of Telehealth Contact Centres: An International Perspective” was presented by Lois Scott. Lois enlightened attendees on correcting the myths of the Canadian health system. She also described how telenursing (both over the phone and through video) can greatly increase effectiveness and reach. In this regard, Canada leads the way, given its population is greatly dispersed over a large geographic area. This development is especially important given the growing shortage of nurses; it is a trend that will find worldwide adoption.

Marlene Grasser concluded the session with pragmatic direction in technology selection for medical call centers. Her presentation was entitled, “Decision Support Software for the Healthcare Contact Center.” Among many other topics, she discussed key call center differentiators, including triage, referrals, survey tools, and disease management. She concluded with guidance on selecting and using call center management tools, an often-overlooked element of successful call center management.

The international assemblage of attendees was then treated to an insightful Q and A opportunity that allowed all four speakers to respond to questions and comments from the audience. The entire set of presentations was well-received and highly-rated.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of AnswerStat. He’s a passionate wordsmith whose goal is to change the world one word at a time.

[From the June/July 2008 issue of AnswerStat magazine]