Modern medicine has some strange paradoxes. Physicians are genuinely eager to help people, but they’re busier than ever, some seeing as many as 15-20 patients a day, and averaging 15 minutes for each visit. This seems to be the minimum to assess their health and offer recommendations, a situation that isn’t always favorable for patients or doctors.
With limited attention from overloaded docs, it’s no wonder that people are taking the initiative to seek out health information on their own. Sure, delving deep into the Internet for medical information can present some scary scenarios and even some “buyer beware” home remedies that may even hurt you more than they claim to help you. But others simply get on their phone and get help, especially if their primary provider or local medical group follows medical customer service trends and offers a customer call center.
Here, people can call with questions or to make or change an appointment. Some call centers can remain open around the clock, which can be handy when the local office is closed after hours and a patient may need help, but nothing critical requiring a 911 call or emergency room visit.
Call center employees don’t necessarily have to have advanced medical expertise, and they’re not permitted to give medical advice over the phone. But they can still help point callers in the right direction.
Here’s how medical call centers work in today’s world, and how it will continue to evolve in the coming years.
The healthcare industry is now required to adhere to federal privacy standards for patients. This means only authorized people are allowed to access your data, and they can’t share it with anyone you don’t give permission to. It has made paperwork and documentation storage more complicated, but privacy experts say this patient confidentiality is vital, especially where electronic records are concerned.
The rules also affect mobile phone usage – medical professionals who may have patient data on their phones are required to keep them easily locked to keep unauthorized people from seeing them. Doctors are discouraged from texting directly to patients as well. In a customer call situation, text messages have been traditionally relayed to a doctor or nurse through an automated process, but now this process needs to be modified to better protect patient confidentiality.
Solutions could include perhaps using a patient number rather than a name, or abbreviations for medical terminology or diagnoses. Come explore our free infographic about the new HIPAA Compliance requirements to learn more.
Though call centers can hire plenty of people who speak English and plenty of people who speak Spanish, the more valued positions are those who can speak both, which will become even more true in the next decade if non-English-speaking people keep grown.
A bilingual call center representative can talk to callers in either language as the caller’s dominant tongue, and also be able to get them help. Bilingual team members at AnswerNow have passed proficiency tests prior to taking Spanish calls to make sure they are competent at understanding and communicating. As far as medical customer service trends, a growing number of Spanish speakers moving to the U.S. – 52 million recently – will likely have medical needs or questions, but may not necessarily have adequate English skills to find the answers they need, or vice versa. Learn more about the importance of offering bilingual answering services today.
Customers who want to schedule visits with a physician or nurse needs to provide some basic contact information and start waiting. However, the waiting period is also an easy way to forget the where and when of an upcoming scheduled visit. The call center/physician staff can set up automated messages to let people know that they have a visit coming up.
It’s up to you how many alerts or how often they are sent out. For instance, one notice can be sent the week before an appointment, one the day before and one that day. The advantage of these is that the staff doesn’t have to call every one of these. This allows them to focus on helping other customers, rather than being stuck making “you have an appointment coming up” calls over and over all day long. Doing these manually can also increase the possibility of error – giving the wrong information to someone, or worse, forgetting to call them can create unhappy customers or incorrect data.
Maintaining appointments can also help the office stay busy but not be overbooked. Automated appointment reminders also can help customers who may vaguely remember that they have an appointment coming up soon but can’t exactly recall which day, and reduce the possibility of no-shows. This is a tool that more call centers are beginning to utilize, so one that doesn’t can be seen as behind the curve.
Overall, customer call centers can represent the perfect opportunity for medical professionals to begin outsourcing many of their customer service functions in a seamless way that patients won’t notice. Having people trained in customer service answer your calls rather than your office staff, who may be more trained in insurance billing or administrative duties, can go a long way towards helping callers feel comfortable enough to volunteer medical information over the phone to someone they don’t know. The call center staff can take time to listen to callers, hear their concerns or conditions, and then send them to the right person on your staff to further help them, such as billing, a nurse or even a physician.
Medical call centers are also aware of patient privacy policies, and will use the same discretion and confidentiality that your staff uses when discussing sensitive information with or about patients.
Providers interested can download our free guide about the benefits of partnering with a medical call center, and learn how to get started with improving your medical center today!