Billie Sue Durden, Director, Meadows Regional Medical Center
The journey of a small contact center is filled with hills and valleys, challenges and rewards. As we created and operationalized our small Contact Center, we learned many lessons along the way. This article will review the creation, operations, and technology used to form and operationalize a small healthcare Contact Center in a small community.
Technology is a key component in the success of any Contact Center. Having the right systems and web-based capability in place is a significant factor in the ability to place Agents where they are needed, providing the ability to develop and analyze key metrics, and optimize ease of contact with our patients.
The Meadows Health Physician Services contact center is located in Vidalia, Georgia, a small rural community in South Georgia. The contact center, with 10 agents, is responsible for answering incoming phone lines and scheduling appointments for 8 physician practices located in Vidalia. Initially only Physician Practice Managers were involved in the creation of scheduling criteria for each practice. Each agent is trained to answer calls for all practices, using a shared document that details the requirements for each practice. We have a Voice Over IP (VoIP) HPBX system to help with the routing of calls which also allows us the ability to pull metrics such as answer times, abandoned rates, and overflow calls to the Physician Practices. This HPBX system is critical to the success of the Contact Center because it allows flexibility in where Agents are located. Agents who work from the Physician Practices are able to answer incoming calls as if they were in the Contact Center, or they can work from home.
Through web-based systems and key data monitoring capabilities, we are able to structure our Physician Services Contact Center in such a way that we meet our customers’ needs
Meadows Health uses a vanity line to allow our patients to contact us from anywhere. Each of the Physician Practices are set up with their main incoming lines routed to the Physician Services Contact Center where Agents answer these calls. Meadows Health decided not to use Interactive Voice Response (IVR) for incoming calls so calls were always answered by a person. Our Hosted Private Branch Exchange (HPBX) system is set up to allow calls to come in via an Automated Call Distribution (ACD) system with the functionality of an Overflow group. If neither the ACD nor the Overflow groups are able to answer an incoming call, the call rolls over to the specific Physician Practice the patient is calling, ensuring the patient is always routed to a human being to answer the phone.
As the Contact Center grew in experience, Physicians complained of scheduling errors, causing patient care delays. Working closely with the IS team, Physicians’ patient schedules were optimized within the electronic health record (EHR) system so the Physicians were seeing patients in the manner they expected. We utilize an integrated web-based EHR, which provides the ability for Agents to work at any location with network capability. The patient appointment schedules are set up with specific appointment types in specific timeframes each day, ensuring Agents do not schedule a patient in the wrong appointment type or timeframe preferred by the Physician.
Maturing as a Contact Center, we decided to have Agents specialize in one Practice so they would become an expert in a specific Practice’s operations and workflows. Agents spent time in the Physician Practice to become familiar with the staff and the operational workflows. This specialization resulted in better communication with the Physician Practices, enhanced relationship building, and decreased scheduling errors and transferred calls. The VoIP HPBX system and web-based EHR allowed the Agents to work wherever they needed to without negatively impacting the ability of the Contact Center to handle high volumes and workflow. Our web-based EHR provides the capability to send patient messages to either Physician Practice Administration or Clinical staff. The Agents are able to look up patient charts to determine which Physician the patient normally sees or notes from previous visits to determine what type of appointment is needed.
Looking to the future, we plan to explore the opportunity to roll out a chat feature via our website. A chat feature would allow our patients to communicate via another channel, often times in a manner they prefer, versus having to contact us via telephone. We also plan to expand our capabilities to include answering incoming Central Business Office calls, make reminder calls for the Physician Practices, and process new patient referrals for the Specialty Practices such as Surgery, Urology, and Women’s Services. These capabilities would not be possible if we did not have a centralized system such as our web-based EHR and HPBX.
Technology has allowed Meadows Health to streamline our operations, meet Physician requirements, and ensure our patients are able to communicate with us in the manner they prefer. Through web-based systems and key data monitoring capabilities, we are able to structure our Physician Services Contact Center in such a way that we meet our customers’ needs. Though small in operations, the vision is the same as if we were a large Contact Center. Technology, communications, and streamlined operations are key to the success of our Physician Services Contact Center and have allowed our small Contact Center a successful beginning to a new concept within the community.