Transforming Presbyterian Healthcare's Call Center: From Revenue Eater to Friendly Front

With eight hospitals, a medical group of more than 500 employed physicians with 36 clinics and New Mexico's largest health plan, it's no surprise that Albuquerque, N.M.-based Presbyterian Healthcare Services has a big impact on its surrounding community. That's why 13 design teams led by a Six Sigma black belt wanted to transform its call center into the most positive experience possible for its patients.

John Johnson, director of the customer service center at Presbyterian, says the integrated health system handles a large portion of the Albuquerque area, and the health system needed to improve its patient satisfaction if it wanted to stay in line with the Triple Aim: improving the experience of care, improving the health of populations and reducing per capita costs of healthcare. Although hospital call centers are normally viewed as revenue eaters, Mr. Johnson says that view is not holistic, especially since so many of the calls have to do with hospital billing and finances. "I've been in the call center industry for 15 years, and it is viewed as a cost center that is not bringing in revenue," Mr. Johnson says. "Presbyterian views it as the frontlines that receive and listen to the voice of customer, and they are often a resource of what the current issues are in the organization."

"Working in other industries and with my other colleagues in healthcare, the focus is on the patient and patient care," he adds. "That's where a lot of technology spending goes."

The problem and solution
Patients that need to get in contact with their physician or healthcare provider usually start at a common base point: calling. If patients are routed to different departments and various clinicians or frontline staff — the black hole of transfers — patient satisfaction inevitably goes down.

Like many hospitals, Presbyterian previously had a fragmented approach to its call center, which led to several transfers, unanswered phones or voicemails, long wait times and little to no accountability to answer and respond to calls. Mr. Johnson says it is a lot to manage, as the health system has about 50 different call queues and roughly 1.7 million calls per year.

Presbyterian wanted to clean this process up, hence the 13 design teams. Mr. Johnson says the teams worked together to document the organization's call center workflow and to revamp its frontline staff process and call center technology by deploying Genesys contact center software.

This technology provides intelligent call routing to the appropriate call agent (e.g., billing, clinical, etc.)and the ability to analyze historical data by patients to streamline operations in the future. "Prior to getting the software, we could not accurately forecast call volume and had no good way to assess how many reps we would need," Mr. Johnson says.

Mr. Johnson says the focus of the call center has shifted, too. Instead of waiting for inbound calls, which normally arise from patients due to confusion or uncertainty, the call center takes a proactive approach to reach out to patients. Outbound calls occur for appointment reminders, welcome calls and to provide health information to patients.

The results
After installing the new software and retooling its call center approach, Presbyterian experienced significant operational results:

•    Call abandonment rates went from 40 percent to 4 percent.
•    The time it took to answer a call went from 300-400 seconds down to less than 30 seconds.
•    The number of calls to the financial services area dropped from 21,000 per month to 14,000 per month.
•    Member service calls fell from 40,000 per month to 30,000 per month.
•    Operator calls also fell by 10,000.
•    Perhaps most significantly, Presbyterian reported that in post-call surveys, 95 percent of respondents said their experience was excellent or very good.

Furthermore, Mr. Johnson says the health system call center was able to garner a more well-rounded understanding of schedules and interconnectedness among the different departments. As healthcare reform puts a special emphasis on patient satisfaction within a tight-knit healthcare system, Mr. Johnson sees the hospital call center as a microcosm of what the future holds. "Healthcare is behind the technology curve in the area of customer service, specifically around telephony," Mr. Johnson says. "This project for Presbyterian was very innovative and also sought to provide an exceptional patient experience, one that was integrated and not fragmented. This allows us to be a more modern call center.

"It takes support from executive leadership to have the vision to create a better customer experience," he adds.

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