The automated call center: How AI and digital patient engagement can reduce call volumes and increase patient satisfaction

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Call centers are one of the key components of healthcare organizations, yet they have barely been touched by digitization. In an age of rising patient expectations and digital-first experiences, their workflows are in dire need of an upgrade.

During an October webinar hosted by Becker's Hospital Review and sponsored by Notable, Bri Buch, patient access solution lead at Notable, discussed the critical role that call centers play in the patient journey and how they can be modernized through intelligent automation. 

Four takeaways:

1. Call centers are ripe for modernization. To optimize patient acquisition, retention and satisfaction while minimizing churn, leaders must reimagine call centers' dependency on inbound and outbound calls and their reactive engagement with patients. The current approach places even digitally savvy patients, who may prefer to direct their own care, at the mercy of pre-digital processes, leading to dissatisfaction. 

2. Intelligent automation is key to converting call centers into patient service centers. Speaking to the need to reimagine what is often patients' first point of contact with the health system, Ms. Buch described how deploying the right technologies can help. She said that instead of increasing agent productivity, redefining call center workflows to match the evolving patient-physician relationship can have an exponentially greater impact. That includes using automation to replace some staff-initiated calls.

Artificial intelligence, robotic process automation, omni-channel patient engagement and custom configurability are intelligent automation technologies that can elevate the call center patient experience. "Just as the EMR was foundational to healthcare for the past 20 years, automation will be for the next 10," Ms. Buch said.

Best practices include identifying high return on investment workflows to automate, implementing relevant technologies and measuring impact according to key performance indicators. High total time spent on a call or manually filling in an EHR can be considered as proxies for potential ROI automation.

3. Watch out for common technology pitfalls. With the availability of so many technologies that address discrete workflows within the call center, call centers may fall into the other extreme and start implementing technology without an overall plan. This could lead to having too many uncoordinated point solutions that make navigation confusing for patients or implementing front-end solutions that do not factor in the work required from back-end staff.

4. When implemented well, intelligent automation can drive transformational ROI for call centers. By automating workflows that previously required manual labor, such as outreach for digital registration, chatbot-guided triage and appointment reminders, call centers can substantially reduce the number of inbound and outbound calls. This frees time for staff to focus on high-touch engagement across in-person and digital channels that improves both operational efficiency and the patient experience.

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