Modernizing Your Contact Center: The First Step Toward a More Engaging Patient Experience

By Donna Martin 

While healthcare has traditionally been more reactive in nature, consumerism is driving a shift toward a model that is more proactive and puts patients at the center. As providers compete ever more fiercely for less revenue due to the financial crisis brought on by COVID-19, we fully expect to see a heavier focus on the consumerization of healthcare this year, and a major boost to patient experience as a result.

In fact, consumerism has already changed patient-facing communications for hospitals and health systems. This shift has been so major that many healthcare leaders are looking to other industries—such as banking and retail—to uncover best practices to adapt to the healthcare setting. After all, the people who shop at are the same people who shop for healthcare—and the experience of the former informs their expectations for the latter.

As a result of consumerism’s influence, delivering an exceptional patient experience is more important than ever, and first impressions are critical. That’s why a modernized contact center—measured by value-based benchmarks—is integral both for differentiating your healthcare organization and for preventing the loss of valuable customers.

For example, if a patient makes a basic inquiry, such as to schedule an appointment, ask a question about a treatment plan, or request a referral, are they confronted with a myriad of questions, outdated, legacy options, and poorly automated selection menus? Are they routed and rerouted among multiple call service operators and forced to relay the same information repeatedly? For a patient living in the gig economy and accustomed to a seamless customer experience, a painful interaction such as this isn’t likely to make a good first impression.

Contact centers measure quantitative benchmarks, such as how fast calls are answered, average handle time, the rate of first-call resolution, and the number of agent-to-agent transfers. All those measures are important, but these traditional, quantitative benchmarks fall short of the innovations and requirements of the industry’s transition to patient-centered, value-based care delivery.

Patient contact centers should offer seamless patient engagement, reducing frustration and time spent by caregivers and patients seeking answers to their questions. If airline carriers know their customers’ preferred seating arrangement and hotels know their guests’ floor and room preferences, then healthcare provider contact centers should strive to anticipate the needs of their patients in a much more proactive manner.

The shift toward an initiative-taking approach requires that patient records are in the patient portal and can be effectively routed to care coordinators. This allows agents to reference and make decisions based on what is known about that patient at that time, including personalization criteria, such as a patient’s preferred channel of communication.

Today’s consumers demand a healthcare ecosystem that offers self-service channels to help them get the right answer quickly. Provider organizations must invest in hyper-personalized, unified, and frictionless experiences with cross-channel integration to create a holistic and engaging patient experience. 

To support these modernized contact centers, health systems will turn increasingly to the next generation of data analytics and cognitive artificial intelligence (AI). Providers have a phenomenal amount of data at their disposal—from claims, labs, and other sources—but using it to effectively anticipate patient needs with razor-focused accuracy remains a challenge. 

From tracking and screening of biometrics and preventive care based on personalized data, organizations should deploy analytics to enhance personal profiles and gain a comprehensive understanding of how to best guide an individual’s health requirements. This will raise the bar on optimizing patient experience. 

As the industry continues to shift toward a patient-centric, proactive model, business process management (BPM) providers can assist with addressing these changes and shorten the learning curves that may exist. The fact that most BPMs have existing relationships with clients who have long emphasized customer experience, such as retail and e-tail, makes them the perfect resource to tap for providing guidance and implementing these new strategies.

Donna Martin is senior vice president, healthcare business development at HGS