Selecting a Healthcare Call Center Platform for the Present…and the Future

By Matt Everly

When selecting a call center platform for your healthcare organization, it is important to consider a number of factors, including:

  • Current needs
  • Internal hospital systems that will need to interface with your call center
  • Future needs
  • Additional products or services from the prospective vendors

The following are some ideas to help you evaluate the various platforms.

What Are Your Call Center Needs? Many hospitals consider the switchboard a call center, while others have a separate call center and switchboard. Make sure the system you are evaluating can perform the necessary tasks. To efficiently handle calls, switchboard operators need to access information instantly and transfer callers with few keystrokes. If your operators take appointments or perform physician referral requests, you may need a more robust call navigation system that streamlines the question and answer process between callers and operators, ensuring the correct result.

Interfacing to Hospital Systems: A call center system doesn’t exist as an island in your organization; there are several hospital systems it needs to “talk to.” Obviously, your PBX or VoIP switch is essential. Know how the system will interface to your switch and if it will work with your current software version. As EMR systems become a more vital part of your organization’s workflow, operators need access to patient information and other data, so a health level seven (HL7) interface is critical. Other integrations to consider include paging, alarms, and additional communications devices.

What Future Call Center Needs Could Your Organization Have? When evaluating call center products, it is important to think of the big picture and consider a number of things. First, are there other departments within your organization that could benefit by having access to the call center system? Many organizations have small “home grown” call center systems scattered throughout their facility. The call center product should be flexible enough to accommodate your organization’s structure.

Second, consider your company’s history or the possibility of acquiring other healthcare organizations or facilities. The call center system should be flexible enough to work with various telephony and healthcare IT systems in a centralized or decentralized environment.

Finally, are there planned projects that need call center services? Examples of this include implementing a nurse triage or physician referral program. Consider the call center needs of these programs when evaluating systems.

What Else Does the Call Center Vendor Bring to the Table? Thinking long-term is a good idea, so look at everything a vendor has to offer beyond your current needs. Add-on products and modules for a call center system are important in an ever-changing healthcare environment. The Joint Commission, HIPAA, and HITECH are all important factors in the evaluation process.

Common additions to call center systems include enterprise-wide Web-based on-call, staff scheduling tools, secure communications, and call recording packages used to maintain historical accuracy and as a training tool. Also, some organizations are adopting a “work from home” operator workforce, so make sure your vendor has products and experience in remote operator environments.

As technology continues to evolve, we see the call center transforming into something used in different and unique places throughout a healthcare organization. Make sure your vendor has the platform you need now and the ability to grow with you in the future.

Matt Everly is the marketing director for Amtelco’s 1Call healthcare division. Matt has worked at Amtelco for over 20 years and has held numerous positions, including Southeast regional sales manager, executive suite market development, and marketing manager.

[From the December 2012/January 2013 issue of AnswerStat magazine]