Seven Deadly Contact Center Sins for Supporting Population Health Management

By Richard D. Stier, MBA

Healthcare call centers are profoundly relevant to today’s healthcare challenges, including managing population health. Call centers are assuming a critical role as communication hubs at the center of the healthcare continuum.

Why invite additional responsibility? Who needs all this pressure? Here’s a tongue-in-cheek guide to prevent your call center from becoming the nerve center at the heart of your organization. It details seven sins that will keep your contact center from being relevant in supporting population health management.

1) Don’t integrate first point of contact functions. Don’t consolidate first point of access functions into a central contact center communication hub. This will avoid assisting the newly insured, avoid supporting ACO and medical home physicians, and avoid creating economies of scale. Let duplication reign.

2) Don’t make post-discharge calls to reduce preventable readmissions. Don’t bother to schedule follow-up appointments with a patient’s primary care physician prior to discharge. Don’t make outbound calls to recently discharged patients to clarify follow-up care instructions, to make certain prescriptions have been filled, or to discuss dosage amounts and frequency. And, don’t bother to confirm follow-up physician appointments.

3) Don’t redeploy your contact center as a trust building resource for participating physicians. Don’t ask physicians how you can help them succeed in your network. Don’t ask them how the contact center can provide greater support for their practice. They might just tell you, and that could create unrealistic expectations.

Don’t provide navigation support by coordinating follow-up appointments, specialist referrals, or appropriate classes. Ignore patients of your emergency department (ED) who don’t have a primary care physician. Let the ED deal with them. Don’t facilitate physician consults for referring physicians with one-call access to specialists. These activities are time-consuming, and some have a learning curve. Chill out.

4) Don’t become the communication conduit to direct referrals for reference pricing. Okay, okay. Employers across the country are taking note of reference pricing, where employer groups are identifying the average price charged for a particular procedure in a given service area and agree to pay only that amount, with overages paid by the insured. Just because reference pricing will likely proliferate, it doesn’t mean your call center should be involved. Doing this requires data entry and record keeping. Who needs the headaches?

5) Don’t deploy clinical triage and advice to reduce ED utilization. In one study, nurse telephone triage reduced ED usage by 4.3 percent and produced an annual savings of $400,000. But, don’t believe every research study out there. So what if there are a few extra ED visits? That’s their problem.

6) Don’t shift your focus from transactions to transformative experiences. Yeah, yeah, the healthcare contact center is frequently a patient’s first experience with a hospital or health system. The first three seconds of that interaction is a strong indicator of patient preference and hospital selection. I get it.

But, if the future is really about transformative, memorable experiences, why do so many businesses manage transactions? What about that fleabag motel? All they care about is getting your money, and they’re still open. This patient experience stuff is overrated. Financial incentives or not, it might be nice if your competitors had to deal with the more challenging callers.

7) Don’t leverage personalized social and mobile media opportunities. I know, we must connect with patients where they are. We’re supposed to think of your contact center as an ongoing connection, a running dialogue with key stakeholders. I get that social media enables that continuous communication.

The truth is, if we weren’t so darned accessible, we might have fewer hassles. So, if we can avoid being too available on social media – and forget about mobile – we can save a lot of time and headaches. I say skip it.

Finally, don’t measure results. Who cares if management perceives your call center as an expense rather than an investment? Managing a call center is a lot of work. Your life would be easier if you didn’t have all this responsibility.

Richard D. Stier, MBA, serves as vice president of marketing for HealthLine Systems, Inc., a leading provider of contact center and credentialing software solutions and consulting services, serving over 1,000 leading healthcare organizations across North America.

[From the February/March 2014 issue of AnswerStat magazine]