The need for a centralized healthcare call center

At some point in time, call centers used to be a luxury afforded only to larger hospitals. These days – it is a necessity.

The need for a centralized healthcare call center is higher now, more than ever. Most smaller healthcare practices, in our opinion, remain small because they are not very business savvy. We understand that our stance might sound controversial.

We have run into many healthcare practices that grew solely due to luck and the fact that healthcare is a recession proof, evergreen business. They did not have any business / marketing plans. These practices are headed by physician practitioners that were good at being doctors. 

We have seen even hospitals, federally qualified health centers, health systems operate this way as well.

Most of these organizations have their front desk handle multiple tasks. Let’s go through a typical front desk person’s daily life.

Day in the life of the front desk staff

The front desk person is checking a patient that just walked in. She is busy asking the patients for their demographics and insurance details to confirm that billing would not have any problems after the patient leaves. The front desk is busy with scanning the patient’s insurance cards, driver’s license for identity verification – so she can scan those as a PDF into the patient’s EMR record. 

Enter the surgery candidate patient

Meanwhile, a technician comes in to drop off surgery forms for a patient that has been identified as a surgical candidate. The surgeon has decided to do the surgery at an ASC that he prefers. Keeping in mind that the patient has waited (usually a long time) to see the doctor, has gone through the wait times involved in working with a technician and finally got to a doctor. After seeing the doctor, the patient is now really anxious to leave the office. They don’t want to have to wait another 15-20 minutes until the front desk is done serving the current patient.

The front desk now pauses work on checking in the patient she was helping and immediately draws up the papers specific to the surgery center that the surgeon chose. She hands them to the patient to fill out (even though she has ALL the information she really needs to be used in the surgery forms – right in her EMR). While the patient is already anxious to leave and even more anxious about the surgery, she acquiesces to re-typing all that information for the front desk staff.

Enter the patient with follow up appointment

Meanwhile, another patient comes in with a follow up appointment request that the doctor has ordered. 

Just like with the surgery candidate, this patient has also spent quite some time in the hospital / clinic, so they have to be tended to immediately as well. So, the front desk person now has to tend to this patient’s follow up date. She spends a good 10 minutes negotiating with the patient about their preferred date/time and the doctor’s availability. 

Point to note here is that this doctor’s availability is still not nailed down – since the schedule is not set up that far ahead yet (3-6 months). So, any appointment given to the patient will most likely have to change anyway.

At this point, the recalled patient got their appointment. The front desk staff now goes back to checking in the patient she was handling before. 

A new patient walks in

While she is doing so, a patient walks in for their scheduled appointment. She has to check the patient’s temperature to ensure adherence to COVID policies.

Meanwhile, she has completely forgotten that she kept an incoming call on hold.

At the end of the day, the front desk probably didn’t even get any time to make outbound calls for appointment reminders, recalls, reactivating patients fallen out of care – nothing.

Made up story? Not really

This is not a made up story – this is exactly what your front desk looks like.

Need for centralized healthcare call center

Patients acting as consumers

With a short attention span.

Advisory.com has published a few articles about the rising changes in patient expectations and demands. They have also discussed how patient access is the key to business viability, reputation and sustainability.

How would you rate your patient access? How quickly can patients get appointments with you? Do you really think patients are waiting patiently for weeks to see you for their care?

Nope.

Patients are moving on to the first available appointment at the next available provider.

Now, think about practice growth.

According to the CMS, an average person spends about $10K per year on healthcare costs. Even CMS claims Medicaid enrollment will continue to rise for another decade. 

If you decide to not grow and see 15-20 patients per day, you are going to be eaten up by the hospitals and larger competitors sooner or later. You’ve already seen this happening as the numbers of solo practitioners have been dwindling for the past decade.

How are you going to respond to this increase in demand?

That’s where centralized healthcare call centers come into the picture. 

You did not go into healthcare to manage front desk staff – did you?

As you are well aware of, training and hiring are significantly expensive. On top of this, you have to create a talent pool bench to provide uninterrupted service. As your team grows, you need mid level managers to manage the team.

Call center technology and infrastructure are another set of necessary headaches to take on. For this, you need to hire a reliable IT team that’s experienced in call center technologies.

Your front desk and whoever answers your phone are your brand ambassadors. Patients, pharmacies and everyone else experiences your brand through their experience with your front desk. How are you going to ensure that the experience is consistent? 

You are going to need a QA (quality assurance) process for this. To be able to handle QA, you are going to need to hire experienced QA folks. Do you, yourself, have the experience in managing QA teams?

A majority of each patient call is spent on gathering demographics and patient insurance information. Payers and their plans have become increasingly complex – your front desk needs to ensure that the patient visit will get reimbursed. That alone is a good 10 mins spent on the phone per patient that called in for an appointment.

Based on where you practice, your no-show rates could very well be as high as 35%. Those 10 mins spent on each incoming appointment request call, could very well be a complete waste. This means that you are going to have to constantly overbook patients by at least 30%).

Will your front desk be handling appointment reminders, recalling patients that are no shows or have fallen out of care? It rarely happens.

Centralized healthcare call centers – a necessity

At some point in time, call centers used to be a luxury afforded only to larger hospitals. These days – it is a necessity. It’s a whole different business altogether. A business that you, as a provider, never signed up for.

Want to read up more on healthcare call centers?