Healthcare Call Centers: An Essential Component in Improving Patient Experiences

By: Mark Dwyer, Chief Operations Officer, LVM Systems, Inc.

Throughout my thirty-plus years in the healthcare call center industry, I’ve had the pleasure of working with hundreds of quality individuals. Understandably, many have moved on to other roles or retired. Yet, surprisingly, a good number are still on the job serving as call center managers and call representatives ten, twenty, and even thirty years later. These dedicated individuals continue to help their local communities connect with necessary healthcare services.

Last month I visited a local call center and ran into a phone representative I had trained on their initial healthcare call center software back in 1993. And she’s not a lone exception. For years, I’ve had the opportunity to watch many call centers expand the functions they offer to their communities while generating additional revenue for their organizations. Today, more than ever, the healthcare call center is not only a nice to have community service but a vital cog in the strategic success of the health system.

My experience last month made me consider how comforting it must be for long-term callers of a local call center to reach out to the same warm, familiar voice with whom they have spoken for years. And when local patients call the representative, she’s not just another voice on the phone. Instead, she’s someone the caller has come to know and trust, empathetic to her specific needs, and engaged in her care.

Over the past three decades, along with personnel changes, healthcare call centers have undergone many modifications in the communication methodologies used to interact with patients. Emails, text messages, web chats, social media, and more have supplemented the once-exclusive phone system. Interestingly, despite the addition of these new communication methodologies, as recently as five years ago, results continued to show that telephone calls still represented the favored method of interacting with the call center.

Even more interesting, statistics show that speaking over the phone was still the preferred communication tool among adult cell phone owners who use text messaging. But times are changing. According to a recent Workforce Optimization (WFO) market report by DMG Consulting:

  • The entrance of Millennials into the workforce is driving overdue changes in how people are managed, including innovations in workforce management solutions.
  • Enterprises are finally starting to build multichannel contact centers that handle calls, emails, and SMS, with social media expected to grow over the next three to five years.
  • DMG predicts that the number of social media interactions will equal the number of phone calls within five to eight years.

So whether it’s new hardware technologies, product capabilities, or communication tools, call centers continue to evolve to remain focused on enhancing the patient experience. This is more critical now than at any time in our industry’s past. Today, just a few cryptic messages by a disgruntled patient over social media can severely damage the hospital’s or physician’s reputation. Therefore, uplifting the patient experience should be the goal of every call center interaction, whether an operator, referral representative, triage nurse, or care coordinator handles the interaction.