Look for Ways to Streamline Your Call Center Processes
Remove What’s Unnecessary and Retain What Is
By Peter Lyle DeHaan, Ph.D.
Although I’m not trained as an industrial engineer, I think I’d make a good one. I have a knack of looking at processes and streamlining them. It gives me great satisfaction to take something overly complex and reduce it to its essential elements.
It doesn’t matter what the task is, whether setting an appointment, doing a patient intake, or making a post discharge phone call, there’s a process to assure it’s done correctly.
Sometimes we view these steps as common sense and don’t feel a need to document them—that is, until someone fails to follow common sense. Other times—be it through past failures or an overly complex process—we document the path to produce success.
Too often, however, these processes are more involved than they need to be. We need to look for ways to streamline them. Here are four considerations.
1. Remove Obsolete Elements: Any process that’s been around for a while, likely contains unnecessary steps. Though once required, they no longer are.
One healthcare call center compiled data from every call for marketing. But marketing didn’t even know the report existed. The person who requested it had left the organization two years before.
2. Eliminate Redundant Tasks: When I started Medical Call Center News, I entered data into three spreadsheets for each issue. Some numbers went on multiple sheets.
I reviewed the purpose I sought to accomplish and what I was doing. One section was a carryover from another publication and no longer applied. Another area contained information that was personally interesting but had no business relevance.
By taking away what was not essential, it was easy to see how the remaining data could smartly fit on one simplified spreadsheet. Not only did I save time with each issue, but the result was easier to use information.
A corollary that applies in many large organizations is multiple departments that want the same data. Enter it in one place and allow everyone to access it there. Don’t do something twice when once will work.
3. Combine Steps: I once toured an apple farm and watched them make cider using an old-fashioned apple press. Though I admired the employee’s diligent work, the inefficiency appalled me. They could have combined five steps into two. And a simple adjustment to the press’s set up would have eliminated all five, which took about 20 percent of the time to make each batch.
4. Cull Historical Baggage: Processes that have been around for a while often include steps that are there because of one error that happened long ago. Yes, mistakes do occur, but it’s not wise to systematize preventing the possible reoccurrence of one long ago oversight.
Conclusion: Streamlining a process may seem like too much work, but once simplified your staff will save time, reduce errors, and be more efficient every time they use it. A little effort now will pay huge dividends for the long-term.
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Are Answering Service Operators Asking the Right Questions?
By Ravi K. Raheja, MD
When a patient calls a nurse triage phone line, they’re first greeted by an answering service. This includes an operator whose job it is to ask questions regarding the reason for the patient’s call, which allows patient requests to be organized into urgent and non-urgent categories for nurse triage staff to address.
There are times, however, when the complaint an operator documents doesn’t reflect the severity of the patient’s problem. Why does this happen? How can you avoid it?
1. Answering Service Operators Usually Don’t Ask Detailed Questions: This is because they’re responsible for routing patient calls and requests, rather than giving dispositions on care. If a patient requests a medication refill, for instance, but the operator doesn’t ask them if they’re experiencing any symptoms, the triage nurse who responds will treat it as non-urgent.
2. Patients May Underreport Their Symptoms (unless asked specifically): In the example above, the caller may also fail to mention the symptoms they’re experiencing. This could be because they either want to talk to a nurse about them directly, or they don’t view their symptoms as a concern.
Both factors have the potential to lead to health complications and reports of negligence. Many healthcare-related lawsuits come from patients who experience a bad outcome from delay in care. Obviously, you can’t expect patients to know all the information that’s important for them to share, so improvement must start with giving better guidelines and instruction to the answering service operators.
For Example: Let’s consider a situation where a patient tells the answering service operator that they’re experiencing a persistent cough. Rather than only document cough in the note to the nurse, the operator should then follow-up by asking the patient if they have any respiratory distress, such as difficulty breathing. If they answer yes, a triage nurse receiving the message will recognize its urgency and act accordingly.
Conclusion: How do operators know what to ask their callers? Like any effective system, they need a format with algorithms or protocols that outline the required questions based on what the caller tells them. This improves health documentation, enhances nurse communication, reduces liability, and betters patient outcomes.
Ravi K. Raheja, MD is the COO and medical director of the TriageLogic Group. Founded in 2007, TriageLogic is a URAC accredited, physician-lead provider of high-quality telehealth services, remote patient monitoring, nurse triage, triage education, and software for telephone medicine.
Email TriageLogic at email@example.com to get details about MyTriageChecklist and its reporting features.
DeHaan Releases New Book: Sticky Customer Service
Peter Lyle DeHaan released his newest book, Sticky Customer Service: Stop Churning Customers and Start Growing Your Business, earlier this summer.
In Sticky Customer Service, unearth practical, action-oriented insights to help turn customer service from an embarrassing weakness into an organizational strength.
“Though Sticky Customer Service addresses all aspects of customer interaction,” DeHaan said, “the telephone takes center stage, and it directly applies to the increasing patient expectations that all healthcare call centers face.”
“Every healthcare call center says that customer service is a priority,” DeHaan added. “Unfortunately, not all follow through. For many this isn’t a lack of commitment but not knowing what to address.”
Sticky Customer Service will show you a fresh approach, teaching real-world examples through applicable narrative. In each example, discover insights that you can apply to your organization, both those on the phone and those interacting with patients in person.
This is book one in the Sticky series. Future titles include Sticky Leadership, Sticky Sales and Marketing, and Sticky Living. Sticky Customer Service is available in e-book, paperback, and hardcover. Get your copy today.
Send us your healthcare call center articles and news for the next issue of Medical Call Center News.
A Thought for Today
How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. -Annie Dillard