The Call Center: Sounding a Death Knell or Seeking a New Identity? Part 3: Adapting to New Uses

October 12th, 2015 No comments

In the previous two installments of this blog series, we looked at where call centers began and how they have evolved up until the present time, as well as at some predictions about the call center of the future. In this last installment, we’ll discuss some new uses for the call center.

Healthcare has undergone tremendous change over the past several years. One of the greatest drivers of change has been the passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) with all its associated rules and regulations. Two important concepts that have sprung from the ACA are Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs) and population health management.

ACOs are essentially what the name implies: a means by which to better coordinate and deliver patient care with improved outcomes. Population health involves “the health outcomes of a group of individuals, including the distribution of health outcomes within the group.” The call center can be a valuable resource for ACOs and population health management, providing health information, assistance with patient compliance and adherence and other patient care services.

      Three needs that are common to ACOs and population health management are:
  • Management of chronic illnesses
  • Adherence to treatment plans
  • Follow-up care.

The call center can be an integral component to provide the necessary patient outreach and communication for these needs.

Let’s examine three real-world examples of call center utilization for ACO and population health management settings.

Case Study: Rio Grande Valley ACO

Cameron and Hidalgo counties, located in the Rio Grande Valley in Texas, have the dubious distinction of being two of the three poorest metropolitan areas in the US. In addition, almost 30% of the population in the area has diabetes. The Rio Grande Valley (RGV) ACO, one of the first Medicare ACOs in the US, serves both counties. Close to 42% of RGV ACO’s Medicare beneficiaries have diabetes.

Diabetes is a major chronic disease that can – and often does – lead to serious complications. Couple a high incidence of the disease with an area of pervasive poverty, and you have very serious health concerns. Improving care for these patients can be quite challenging.

CMS has identified five quality measures for assessing treatment outcomes for ACO patients with diabetes: blood pressure control, lipids (cholesterol and triglycerides) control, blood glucose control, aspirin use and tobacco avoidance. Patients must be compliant in all five areas in order for the ACO to be deemed compliant with treatment.

In 2012, the RGV ACO achieved 70-80% compliance in individual quality measures, but only 23% compliance in meeting all the quality measures. In order to improve overall compliance, efforts were ramped up, including the establishment of a diabetes education center. A team of medical assistants and licensed vocational nurses (LVNs) were trained to serve as care coordinators by a certified diabetes educator, and a care coordinator was placed in each clinic. Using the HER system, a concerted effort was made to help patients improve their compliance with all five quality measures. A call center was established that made routine calls to survey blood sugar levels, and remind patients to take their cholesterol and blood pressure medications.

By 2013, RGV ACO’s compliance had improved to 75-90% with individual quality measures, and 48% compliance with all five; an overall 100% improvement.

Case Study: Community Care of North Carolina (CCNC)

CCNC is a state-wide organization comprised of 14 local networks in North Carolina that provide healthcare to rural and under-served populations using the medical home model. A call center was established in 2011 to assist CCNC in achieving its goals and initiatives through telephonic patient contact.

The primary goal for CCNC is to decrease unnecessary ER admissions. To that end, when CCNC is informed of a non-emergent ER visit, call center staff follow-up with the patient to reiterate the importance of using the medical home and identify additional local resources and options for the patient. In most cases, only a single phone call is made, but in the case of patients who continue to over-use the ER for non-emergent visits, an RN from the call center will attempt to follow-up with these patients to identify any care gaps or new health issues that can be referred to the networks.

Additional functions of the CCNC call center include provide:

  • Information to new enrollees regarding appropriate use of the ER and urgent care; accessible local resources; medical home provider-specific information; information on provider visit and prescription co-pays; and how to access specialists.
  • Health coaching for the CCNC Medicaid population, using RNs who are certified health coaches.

Case Study: North Shore-LIJ Health System

      Rather than having patients hear the ubiquitous “If this is an emergency, hang-up and call 9-1-1 or go to the emergency room” message that can drive them to use inappropriate or out-of-network resources, North Shore-LIJ opted to establish a 24/7 central phone bank that is linked to physician offices, care managers, on-call triage nurses and physicians.

The phone service handles calls from North Shore-LIJ’s 5,000-patient cohort in the Montefiore Medicare Pioneer ACO, 12,000 patients in its individual health plan, 50,000 patients in its self-funded employee benefit plan, and several ACO and pay-for-performance contracts with commercial insurers. It also serves the system’s Medicare bundled payment service which launched this year. Overall, about 7 percent of the system’s revenues came from at-risk contracts in 2014, projected to rise to 10 percent or more in 2015.

    The call center provides these functions:

  • Appointment scheduling
  • Routine prescription requests
  • Answering clinical questions
  • Directing patients to network physician offices or urgent care when needed.


As healthcare continues to change and evolve, so can the call center, as illustrated by the above examples. The call center has the potential to be an integral component of healthcare delivery for many years to come.

If you missed Parts 1 and 2 of this series, you can see them here:  Part 1 and Part 2.


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Top Reasons to Attend the 19th Annual Healthcare Internet Conference: Extracurricular Activities Edition

September 10th, 2015 No comments

The 19th Annual Healthcare Conference will be here before you know it! As we head into mid-September, it’s time to finalize plans for your trip to Orlando in early November. Seriously. It’s less than 2 months away!

It goes without saying that the educational and networking opportunities at HCIC are our prime reasons for tropical funattendance. But “all work and no play…” Right? So we thought we’d list some fun things to do while you’re in Orlando for the conference.

The “D Word: If we were doing a word association exercise, it’s a pretty safe bet that the word most associated with Orlando would be “Disney.” We’ve already heard from several attendees that they are bringing their families along so they can visit Disney World before or after the conference. For your convenience, the hotel venue – the Omni Orlando Resort at ChampionsGate – offers complimentary shuttle service to the Disney theme parks. Note: A reservation for the shuttle is required at least 24 hours in advance – see the hotel concierge for more information.

If you’re not up for a theme park experience at Disney or won’t have enough time, you still have other choices on the Disney property, such as Downtown Disney, which has numerous dining, shopping and entertainment options.

Various holiday-themed special events will be available on select dates starting in November, so be sure to check the Disney special events schedule if you’re interested in attending one. Tickets are required to attend holiday events.

Other theme parks: The Orlando and Tampa areas are “theme park central,” no doubt about it. There’s a theme park to suit everyone’s tastes, even the Lego aficionados.

Dining: Most of your meals are provided during HCIC, but if you want a change from conference food, you have plenty of choices! The hotel offers several options, from casual to upscale. If you want to venture away from the hotel property, Town Center at Celebration has about a dozen different dining locations, ranging from pizza to deli to Thai to upscale and other choices. As previously mentioned, Downtown Disney has many dining choices, as well. Check for even more dining options in the Orlando area.

Entertainment: The Omni Orlando Resort offers multiple onsite entertainment options, from golf, tennis, basketball, volleyball and water activities to shopping and a spa. Away from the hotel, the options are almost unlimited.

No doubt some of you are frequent visitors to Orlando and have your own favorite places and activities. Please feel free to share your suggestions with us, either by commenting here or posting on any of our various social media sites: Facebook, Twitter or our LinkedIn HCIC Group.

We look forward to seeing everyone in Orlando!


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The Call Center: Sounding a Death Knell or Seeking a New Identity? Part 2: Moving Toward the Call Center of the Future

August 31st, 2015 No comments

call center image

In a recent survey of healthcare call center professionals, the Healthcare Call Center Times, in collaboration with Neathawk Dubuque & Packett and Corporate Health Group, found that almost three-fourths of survey respondents say their call center will be more important to their organizations over the next two years.


In addition, survey respondents saw future call center features such as:


  • Increased automation: fewer phone calls, more online and virtual interactions, more self service, more online appointment scheduling.


  • More focus on care management: more Web-based and mobile-based encounters; more care management that is patient and family centered; greater support to clinical practices, possibly assisting with the move into population health.


The necessity of flexibility: being prepared for future developments in technology and marketing strategies is key for the call center to remain relevant.A summary of several articles published over the past couple of years on the topic of future call center developments finds that leaders in the field have discussed several common themes related to the call center of the future.


The common themes include:


  • Moving from the concept of a “call center” to a “relationship hub.” As technology changes and more channels of communication become available, an organization must have the capability of communicating with customers over various platforms and media. A movement from “successful interactions” to “successful conversations” is seen. The call center will need to move from being reactive to being proactive in order to remain as an integral part of the overall business strategy.


  • Cloud technology is leading the transformation. There’s no doubt that the move to cloud technology has had a huge effect on call centers, and will continue to do so for some time to come. It’s no longer necessary to have a large room full of people tethered to phones and computers to effectively communicate with customers. Remote working is possible, which allows an organization to hire the best and the brightest agents regardless of their physical location.


  • Call center integration with CRM and business marketing channels. Call center success and effectiveness is a business-wide concern and such integration will be mandatory.


  • Call center agents will need to become “super agents.” As self-help options and user communities proliferate, only the most complex problems and issues will go to the call center. Thus, call center agents will require a wider range of skills – excellent communication skills, analytical problem solving skills, project management skills and technical training to be able to adapt to changes in technology.


  • Changing security features. In an era of repeated data breaches, the security of a person’s data is of utmost concern. The call center will need to adapt to improvements in security features. One such possibility is voice biometrics, where a customer’s voice is analyzed to create a unique voiceprint, similar to a fingerprint. No longer will security questions such as “What is your mother’s maiden name?” be required. Voice biometrics and other types of biometrics are much harder to replicate, which makes data theft more difficult.


  • The Internet of Things (IoT) will be a factor. Although the IoT is still somewhat in its infancy, particularly on the consumer side, it’s predicted that by 2020, there will be 20+ billion Internet-connected devices, which is equal to 26 devices per person on the planet. This greatly multiplies the number of opportunities for connection with customers. One such opportunity is pre-emptive service, where a device could detect a problem and send an automated service request to the appropriate service team for action. Matthew Choy, Managing Director at Rsupport, says the ability to provide effective support for IoT will play a key role in call center operations, and in fact, may “make or break” call centers.


So despite previous predictions to the contrary, the call center is not only alive and well, it is positioning itself to remain a vital component for organizations into the future.


Be sure to watch for Part 3 of this series, where we’ll look at the involvement of call centers with population health and ACOs.

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The CRM Workshop is only a Month Away!

August 26th, 2015 No comments

CRM_Conference_Promo_Image (3)If you haven’t already made plans to attend the CRM Workshop in late September, what are you waiting for?

Customer Relationship Management (CRM): Making the Most of the Your CRM Investment will be a day and a half devoted to all things CRM:

• How do I craft a vision and strategy for CRM in my health system?
• How do I pick the right CRM solution and vendor?
• What changes will I have to make in the marketing department?
• How can I ensure we’re getting the most out of our CRM system?
• How do I get my CRM strategy back on track?
• What can I learn from other industries that have used CRM for many years?
• And much more…

      To be held in an intimate, creative setting and limited to 30 non-vendor participants, this CRM conference will be a unique opportunity to network with and learn from peers, as well as interact with healthcare marketing executives from around the country, who will share their CRM journeys and provide insights into the trials and successes of their CRM programs. Participants will leave with information and tools to support CRM selection, build effective vendor relationships and optimize performance of their CRM systems.Faculty and facilitators for the CRM conference include:

• Terri McNorton – VP Marketing, Ochsner Health, New Orleans, Louisiana
• John Marzano – VP/Chief Marketing & Communications Officer, Orlando Health, Orlando, Florida
• Chantal Stephens – Director of Marketing & Sales, Orlando Health, Orlando, Florida
• Chrisie Scott – Vice President, Marketing & Corporate Communications, Meridian Health, Neptune, New Jersey
• Karen Wish – Director of Marketing/Senior Brand Strategist, New York-Presbyterian Hospital, New York, New York
• Karen Corrigan – CEO, Corrigan Partners, Norfolk, Virginia
• Brian Whitman – Partner, Corrigan Partners, Norfolk, Virginia
• Carla Bryant – Partner, Corrigan Partners, Norfolk, Virginia
• Kathy Divis – President and Co-Founder, Greystone.Net, Atlanta, Georgia
• Michael Schneider – Vice President and Co-Founder, Greystone.Net, Atlanta, Georgia

Fewer than 10 spaces remain for this CRM Workshop, which will be held September 29-30 in Chicago. You don’t want to miss out on this exclusive learning opportunity! Register today to reserve your seat at the conference. Also, be sure to reserve your hotel room at the nearby Crowne Plaza Chicago Metro Hotel by September 7th to receive the discounted room rate of $214/night.

We look forward to seeing you in Chicago!




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The Call Center: Sounding a Death Knell or Seeking a New Identity? Part 1: Where We’ve Been, Where We’re Going

August 10th, 2015 No comments

call center imageFor some time now, there have been rumors of the demise of the healthcare call center.


In fact, 15 years ago, CRM Magazine published an article titled “Death of the Call Center,” in which it proclaimed, “The call center as we know it is dead.” Since that time, other articles with similarly-morbid titles have been written about the “death” of the call/contact center.


A 2013 white paper from IntelliResponse has the title “Death of the Contact Center – Are the Rumours True?”  However, what most of these articles were speaking to was not the idea of “stick a fork in it – it’s done,” but rather the evolution of the call center from its original form to a new structure that leverages new communications formats and platforms. But where is this evolution leading to?


As with everything else in the marketing world – and all the other “worlds” as well – the advent of digital and mobile technology has created a sea change in the way we do things. Perhaps the call center is not really dead – rather, it is in a state of transition, similar to how the US Postal Service has had to deal with the rise of email and eCommerce affecting the volume of “snail mail” and package shipping.


The IntelliResponse white paper mentioned above goes on to state, “Let’s not move forward with any funeral plans just yet, however—because the ‘death’ of the traditional call center merely gives rise to the contact center of the future.”


Before we talk about the call center of the future, let’s take a brief look at the evolution of the call center. The call center as we know it had its beginnings in the mid-1960s with the introduction of Private Automated Business Exchanges (PABX) – often called “PBX” in systems that required a live operator. PABX allowed a business or organization to have multiple incoming phone lines with a single phone number.


In the early 1970s, Automatic Call Distribution (ACD) was developed, which allowed calls to be filtered and assigned to the most appropriate agent available at the time of the call. The introduction of the ACD provided a much more flexible automated system that could handle larger numbers of calls without a human operator.


Also during the ‘70s, Wide Area Telephone Service (WATS) was introduced, allowing companies to make long-distance calls at cheaper rates. Not long after, toll-free 800 numbers came into existence, which allowed customers to contact companies at no charge to the customer. During this time, call centers became an important, distinct function for many businesses and the term “call center” came into use.


Technological advances, such as computer telephony interfaces (CTI), developed during the 1980s and 1990s led to businesses and organizations using call centers to address customer service requests and billing inquiries. At that time, call centers existed to help businesses improve efficiency and better manage customer care costs.

The next development in call centers was IVR, or interactive voice response systems. Although IVR led to 24-hour availability for some aspects of customer service because of its self-service features, it also led to much frustration on the part of customers (think “voicemail hell”).


More recently, the development of VoIP technology and CRM platforms has led to dramatic changes in call centers. Perhaps most important is the ability to now communicate with customers via any mode of communication across the same infrastructure, including Web services, email, chat and social media.


So it seems to be safe to say that call centers aren’t dying out, they’re just metamorphosing into a new and improved version that works with today’s technology and digital marketing strategies to bring a better experience to users.


Coming next: Part 2 – The Call Center of the Future




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