Healthcare Call Center Trends: What Leaders Need to Know

Becker’s Healthcare is one of the most widely read outlets in the healthcare industry, covering all of the latest and most important news and developments. PerfectServe Chief Product Officer Ben Moore appeared on a recent episode of the outlet’s Becker’s Healthcare Podcast to discuss the current state of the fast-changing healthcare call center market. Ben shared his thoughts on the transition to the cloud, key integrations for the call center, and developments he expects to see for the remainder of 2023.

The Current State of Healthcare Call Centers

Moore starts off by sorting healthcare call centers into two major categories: the business-focused call center and the clinical (or operations-focused) call center. The former is typically a main phone line for consumers to call with questions about things like insurance or billing. The latter, being clinically focused, include hospital switchboards, patient transfer centers, and answering services. Business call centers are mature and typically well-integrated into the business processes inside of a health system, and a majority of these solutions have transitioned to the cloud. The same can’t be said about clinical call centers.

Today, the majority of clinically-focused call centers are built with antiquated on-premise solutions based on computer telephony integrations (CTI) technology. CTI systems depend on local servers and computers to link calls and to integrate with local systems like paging networks and overhead paging systems.

On-premise solutions present a number of challenges, including the need to have specialized staff on site for maintenance and troubleshooting. On-premise software depends on local server systems and their viability, and they’re often slow to evolve and difficult (or even impossible) to integrate with other clinical systems. Another challenge is person-to-person connectivity. When doctors and nurses need to communicate with one another—and with patients and family members—connectivity throughout and beyond the hospital site is limited since on-premise call center technology may not be able to integrate easily (or at all) with the hospital’s directory.

The Push for Call Center Progress

Moore began “meddling” in the call center software space over a decade ago when his daughter was born. His daughter came weeks early and his wife experienced other serious complications, and the care delays and communication inefficiencies they experienced created more stress and delayed their care. Moore observed that, when a nurse tried to reach a doctor, she’d have to call a hospital operator, who would then have to track down and page a doctor on call. He saw firsthand the wasted time and effort that were inherent to this workflow for providers, and the health of his wife and daughter were affected by it.

Many people likely have a similar story that involves a care delay at the hospital caused by communication inefficiencies. That’s why Moore’s mission brought him to PerfectServe, which mitigates these challenges for clinicians with software that enhances speed to care and improves provider and patient experiences by ensuring all communications—calls, messages, alerts, and more—get to the right place at the right time.

“I saw these call centers in need of a massive upgrade, given how communications are flowing through them on a daily basis,” said Moore. “If you try to tackle [the problems] without solving the call center challenges, you can only really solve a portion of the communication breakdowns that are happening in hospitals and impacting patients and families.”

Modernizing the Call Center Approach

Much has been said in the past few years about evolving patient expectations—many now want real-time access to healthcare. COVID-19 and the sweeping implementation of telehealth and virtual-based care accelerated this evolution. Moore feels we’ve now settled on the “new norm” in terms of how care is provided to patients due to the variety of access channels they now have available to them. In some ways, telehealth and other internet-based or digital care (like patient text messaging) have shifted some of the weight off of the call center’s proverbial shoulders.

“We put effort forward to give call center agents the ability to text patients and family members, for example, and that allows them to serve more patients at a time asynchronously rather than being hung up on the phones all the time,” said Moore. “These types of approaches not only offload the healthcare call center, but they also allow [health systems] to avoid losing patients that might go elsewhere to seek care if they can’t get that immediate access they desire and expect in the new norm.”

Key Call Center Integrations to Consider

Moore noted that the most common call center integration is with the ever-present EHR. This is because this integration gives operators the ability to instantly see and access the patient care team, both inside and outside the walls of the hospital. Other important integrations include patient flow systems, customer relationship management (CRM) systems, hospital communication systems, and call schedules for providers. 

“How do you go about finding the right clinician at the right time and cutting down the time it takes for an agent?” said Moore. “We [answered that question by building PerfectServe’s] call center enablement technology on top of our existing clinical communication platform.”

Moore said call center deployment depends on phone access. Though technology today enables smartphone use, most patients still rely on telephones to connect with their providers. Moore emphasized that the infrastructure for any modern health system should be robust enough to handle phone calls from patients and outreach via newer communication channels as well. 

“[Even though] someone may access a healthcare system by telephone, [that doesn’t mean] the responsiveness and service level of the healthcare organization should be compromised or diminished based on telephone access,” said Moore. The call center can and should be the bridge that seamlessly connects these disparate communication channels.

What’s Coming in 2023?

According to Moore, digital healthcare is progressing rapidly even though health systems still face a range of difficult challenges coming out of the pandemic, not to mention high inflation, wage increases, and persistent staffing shortages. The job market is very competitive, both for providers and for IT staff. Moore believes the pace at which organizations shift to cloud-based call center technology will accelerate to support things like digital front door initiatives and other efforts to meet the needs of a changing healthcare workforce and patient base.

Moore’s most profound prediction for 2023 is the accelerated use of AI and machine learning. Though they can’t solve every problem, he believes these capabilities will be used to fill certain holes that the labor shortage has created. Among other outcomes, Moore thinks this advanced technology will be used to tend to patient calls more quickly. As ever, the potential of AI is never less than enticing, especially when there are potential gains to be realized when delivering care.

PerfectServe is Leading the Charge to Transform the Call Center

PerfectServe’s cloud-based call center technology seamlessly connects clinicians, patients, and their family members. To learn more about how PerfectServe is leading the charge to transform a segment of the market that’s overdue for an upgrade, schedule a demo or contact us today

This episode of the Becker’s Healthcare Podcast was sponsored by PerfectServe. You can listen to the full episode on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and other podcast streaming platforms.