“Patient experience,” “customer service,” “patient satisfaction scores” and “value-based performance” are now part of hospitals’ and healthcare providers’ everyday vocabulary. Value-based care is pushing them to achieve many more financial objectives – and improving the patient experience is an extremely important component. Providers who lose patients because of poor customer service or poor physician referral processes feel a direct hit on revenue and, ultimately, on the bottom line.

There’s another financial incentive to improve customer service. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) requires hospitals subject to the Inpatient Prospective Payment System (IPPS) annual payment update provisions to collect and submit data from the Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS) survey in order to receive their full IPPS annual payment update. If they don’t, their annual payment update may be reduced by two percentage points. The HCAHPS survey measures patients’ perceptions of their hospital experiences, which include responsiveness of hospital staff and other service measures.

Balancing customer service and clinical care

Many hospitals and healthcare providers struggle to focus on the patient experience and customer service because of competing priorities. Value-based care; clinical, quality and safety initiatives; mergers and acquisitions; integrating employed physicians; software conversions and migrations; and supply management often monopolize their attention.

C-suite executives and leaders responsible for the patient experience are overburdened. Staff members often wear too many hats, leaving customer service and, in particular, call center service, to suffer. In most cases, it’s not intentional. Healthcare organizations with in-house call centers don’t always monitor calls or track call metrics from a patient access or experience perspective. Many don’t realize they have a problem until revenue shortfalls and patient satisfaction scores show otherwise.

Signs of medical call center vulnerability

Perhaps the biggest reason healthcare call centers fall short is because they’re not run like true call centers. It’s typical for a hospital or healthcare system to put existing front desk or scheduling staff in a central location to try to gain efficiencies and improve service. Many times they don’t emphasize the importance of excellence in customer service skills or invest in the rigor required to run a true call center and they end up with unhappy employees, revolving staff turnover and frustrated patients.

Healthcare executives may not know when it’s time to pull the plug on a deficient call center and outsource those hospital call center services to a professional firm. Here are 10 signs that it might be time:

  1. You fall short of healthcare call center benchmarks. If 5% or more of patients hang up before they’re helped, hold times are longer than 60 seconds and/or call routing accuracy is under 99%, your call center may be understaffed or lacking training.
  2. Patient satisfaction scores are going down. In healthcare, 96% of patient complaints are related to customer service.1 If your scores are trending down, your call center may be a big part of the problem.
  3. Medical call center staff turnover is high. Many healthcare providers fill call center jobs with entry-level people who have front desk or scheduling experience rather than professional customer service experience. As a result, people bid out of the call center for other jobs in the organization, they leave for a nominal pay increase somewhere else or they’re terminated because they don’t have the skills or empathy to handle patients appropriately.
  4. You don’t review recorded calls and screen captures against practice guidelines. The key to a successful call center is to reduce variation by scripting and enforcing scheduling or other “telephone” task protocols.  Often, healthcare leaders don’t have the time or technical telephony resources to evaluate their customer service quality, thereby exacerbating patient dissatisfaction which leads to administrative and/or provider complaints.
  5. You don’t give your call center staff ongoing coaching and training. Not only does a lack of training affect patient satisfaction, it can lead to a revolving door of employees who feel frustrated and unprepared to deliver customer service. Continuous quality improvement and reinforcement training is key to low turnover and high satisfaction for patients.
  6. You don’t know how much revenue you lose from patient leakage. Loyalty is less important to patients than convenience and getting in to see a doctor. To protect and grow revenue, healthcare providers must monitor appointment volume versus the prior year, chase “no show” offenders and proactively call patients to encourage preventive health or return visits. Few providers have time to prioritize patient leakage using current staff.  
  7. Referring providers are frustrated with your service. If a referring provider can’t get through to make an appointment for their own patients, it puts revenue and future physician referrals at risk. Many healthcare organizations don’t have the resources to handle these calls any differently from patients calling on their own, resulting in archaic processes like voicemail requests and old school faxing of referrals.
  8. The patient access experience varies from practice to practice. A seamless patient access experience is especially important in large healthcare systems. Without an efficient centralized call center, patients have to make multiple calls or be routed from one department to another with inconsistent service and procedures.
  9. Poor data entry burdens the entire revenue cycle. When internal call center representatives fail to verify insurance, set payment expectations or enter patient information correctly, it can lead to rejected claims, more work on the backend and patient frustration with the whole experience.
Why medical call center outsourcing works

Running a call center requires specialized expertise – even more so when the calls entail patient questions about their health issues and possible financial challenges. Outsourced medical call centers know how to hire representatives with good listening skills, calm demeanor, a service mentality and empathy for patients. They provide agents with ongoing, in-depth training on the medical aspects of the job and how to represent healthcare providers as if they were members of their staff. Good call center providers have advanced technology and tools to help ensure quality and report results.

If 70% of all patient care occurs in a physician office setting, and patients have to call for appointment scheduling or to get their questions answered, why would you risk putting inadequate resources in place to manage your call center?

Find out how McKesson hospital call center services can help you address your patient experience needs, ease the burden on existing staff and increase revenue.

1 Patients' No. 1 complaint? Front-desk staff,” by Kelly Gooch, April 26, 2016, Becker’s Hospital Review, http://www.beckershospitalreview.com/hospital-management-administration/patients-no-1-complaint-front-desk-staff.html

Definitive eBook to Improving Patient Access and the Bottom Line
Keith Slater

About the author

As our Vice President of Patient Access Services, Keith Slater oversees the services strategy for our Patient Access business initiatives for hospitals, health systems and physician practices.  With 27 years experience exclusively in the healthcare vendor and services space, Keith has held executive roles at companies such as MED3OOO (pre-McKesson acquisition), Elsevier Clinical Solutions, Henry Schein and Misys Healthcare Systems with key roles in helping providers optimize their operations through technology and service excellence.