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Health care reform catalyst for customer service improvements

Health care reform catalyst for customer service improvements 5/10/2012
By Donna Fluss

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ItÕs hard to imagine a health care organization delivering innovative and outstanding service, or even caring about it, but this is exactly what is starting to happen as a result of government health care reform. Regardless of whether health care regulations are dramatically altered or just modified, the fear of the unknown has awakened this industry and forced it to pay attention to the Òlittle peopleÓ who were previously lost in the medical care and insurance maze — which means improved health care contact centers.

Customer service, once the least important aspect of the doctor (or other medical provider) and patient relationship, is becoming an essential element of the experience as organizations add the health care contact center to the relationship.

Health care contact center agents as concierges

According to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, health care spending was estimated to have been about $2.7 trillion in 2011, which is approximately 17.9% of the U.S. gross domestic product for the period. Despite all of this spending, too many people are still lost in the system and are desperately in need of a helping hand, also known as customer service.

Health care networks are trying to figure out how to use health care contact center agents as Òconcierges,Ó an approach that could greatly improve patient outcomes and free medical professionals from administrative tasks so they can spend more time with their patients. As a result, these organizations are now investing millions in revamping their front- and back-office infrastructures. Health care reform or not, this step was greatly overdue.

Health care companies have realized that their health care contact centers can be the Òfront doorÓ into their network. They can guide patients through an often complex and anxiety-ridden experience — everything from finding the right doctor to getting in touch with a nurse to discussing test results.

This is a good idea for many reasons, and if done properly, will improve the patient experience and reduce operating costs, but itÕs not a new one. Financial services organizations, particularly retail banks, did a similar thing back in the 1980s when they tried to direct anything that wasnÕt transaction-oriented to their contact centers. Although some customers may disagree, this was considered a major success for the companies that properly educated both their agents and customers. While the complexity of health care systems makes the banking process appear straightforward, similar service concepts can be applied.

Proactive health care customer service

Another area of customer service innovation is proactive customer care. This includes the use of outbound multimedia servers that can automate the delivery of many types of interactions — calls, SMS, emails, faxes — to remind patients of upcoming appointments or to take their medicine, refill prescriptions or change the batteries in a life-saving medical device. It also allows companies to monitor the effects and results of medicine trials.

Big data, big opportunity

The technology world is enamored with the concept of Òbig data,Ó long a reality in contact centers. This is another area where innovation can enhance health care service. Health care systems need to use a variety of analytical solutions to make sense of the millions and billions of structured and unstructured records that pass through their contact centers annually. Health care organizations should use business intelligence and performance management solutions to manage the environment, and speech and text analytics solutions to make sense of all unstructured customer interactions, such as calls, emails and SMS.

Legislation is acting as the catalyst for improvements and innovation in the customer experience in the health care industry. New patient-centric practices and technologies, empowered by unified communications, Internet Protocol and analytics, are changing the doctor-patient relationship into the contact center-doctor-patient relationship. This added service aspect may be one of the better things to come out of health care reform.