Home Health CIO shows what a service center can do for patient access and experience

CIO shows what a service center can do for patient access and experience

by News7

New Bedford, Mass.-based Southcoast Health – with more than 450 providers at more than 50 locations across southern Massachusetts and Rhode Island – faces the same challenges as other health systems and IDNs: the need to build its patient base, drive growth, increase revenue and control costs – all while delivering high-quality care and top patient experience.

Consumers have become more savvy – and more choosy – about where and how they receive their healthcare services, and they can be tough customers if the care that’s delivered to them does not meet expectations. They’ve come to expect convenience, affordability and accessibility.

Indeed, as the description of one upcoming HIMSS24 education session notes, at least one survey has shown that nearly 80% of consumers would think seriously about switching providers if they had a poor experience accessing healthcare services.

That session, The Access Game Changer: Service Center and Technology’s Role, will be presented by Jim Feen, Southcoast Health’s chief information officer, next month in Orlando.

Along with Southcoast Health Service Center director Russ Onofrio and Chartis principal Sarah Kremer, Feen will describe how the health system sought to build patient satisfaction and bolster its competitive position with an advanced and IT service center.

They’ll describe what such a contact center looks like, what was necessary to conceptualize, design and stand it up, what KPIs they use used to track its efficacy and progress, how it’s helping engage patients and enable quality experience – and what other provider organizations should be thinking about if they would like to try something similar.

We asked Jim Feen a few questions about how the service center has been working for Southcoast and what HIMSS24 attendees can learn from his session.

Q. What was the impetus for Southcoast Health to embrace the service center concept?

A. In the height of the pandemic, while so many things were in flux and unclear, one thing became very clear in that our approach to patient call centers was a weakness for our organization. A lot of hard work had gone into supporting our primary care and multi medical specialty provider groups over the last decade. This work led us to having 37 (37!) independently managed call centers to support specialties.

The inefficiencies that surrounded this structure were magnified significantly when we were in the throes of launching telehealth and mass-vaccination programs. It is hard to help patients when you gain awareness that your performance metrics for things like answering a patient call within 30 seconds or call abandonment rates are nowhere near a respectable benchmark. 

Q. What are some keys to building a successful one?

A. This required full support from the CEO through the entire village at Southcoast Health. Collaboration and listening to concerns of the Providers and office staff is paramount. Listening to our Patient and Family Advisory Committee was also critical. The last thing we wanted was to swoop-in and assume the administration had all the answers in trying to solve this problem.

Like most things, this required methodical planning and communication, staffing and quality program development, technology evaluation and implementation, and establishing a new and experienced leadership structure. Customer experience and call/service center management is a profession and skill that we did not possess, and figuring this out was a key first step for us.

Q. How has the service center improved access and boosted patient engagement and experience?

A. The quality and education program for our service center agents is a critical ingredient in the recipe. Setting good expectations on the little things like how to properly address callers/patients really matters. There is technology we have behind the scenes that measures interactions and rates how well our team does things like verify patient identity properly (HIPAA), down to thanking patients.

Learning from these interactions had to become part of the culture to positively promote the ideal interactions our patients deserve. Just a few examples, but this has helped boost call center performance metrics and nearly double performance in many cases. It is a good thing when your service center is pressure testing things like Third Next Available metrics, which project how far out, on average, a provider is available for new patient visits or follow-ups. 

Q. Has it enabled increased customer loyalty and served as a competitive advantage?

A. This is tough to judge. When you consider the fact access is very stretched for areas like primary care, where we currently have waitlists to get a PCP, a problem that is certainly not unique to Southcoast. What we have streamlined is making sure patients get the appointment they are seeking.

Referral management is a key focus while making sure we do not “bounce” the patient around. We are an integrated care system, so the service center gives us the capability to behave like one when it comes to continuity of care and making sure we can help patient needs while minimizing the number of touchpoints the patient has to endure. We have made considerable progress on this front, which will only help drive loyalty.

Q. For other health systems who might be interested in trying something similar: What are some tips for designing and building an effective service center, and ways to track its success along the way?

A. This won’t be a side-project that you add to the sizeable list that everyone contends with. This has to be a health system top-priority, and communicated as such all the way through your Senior team. The patient must remain at the center of the design work, while making sure you satisfy the very unique things that are necessary across your specialties to keep them running smoothly.

Taking the time to understand the unique needs of the specialties is critical. You have to prove why this model is more efficient and doesn’t lead to unintended headaches for the people most reliant on what the service center does – the patients and the providers! This informs what you need to do in places like your EHR to build decision trees or hardwire your scheduling system to ensure the right visit types under the right circumstances end up on your provider schedules.

Having the right progressive call center technologies in place to support this is key but should not be the focal point of the project. You get limited chances to get this right without losing credibility or losing your patients.

“The Access Game Changer: Service Center and Technology’s Role,” is scheduled for Wednesday, March 13, 8:30-9:30 a.m. in Room W208C at HIMSS24. Learn more and register.

Mike Miliard is executive editor of Healthcare IT News

Email the writer: [email protected]

Healthcare IT News is a HIMSS publication.

Source : Healthcare IT News

You may also like