This is the third post in our Call Center Patient Experience Series. Over the course of this three post series, we’ve explored some of the top barriers to patient access through health system call centers and how they impede a positive patient experience: outdated provider directories, limited patient-provider matching capabilities, and lack of visibility into provider availability.
In our previous posts in this series, we explored how outdated provider directories and gaps in patient-provider matching capabilities are two major barriers to patient access. In this final post we explore a third key barrier: enterprise-wide visibility into provider appointment availability.
In a recent study, we called into the call centers of 40 leading hospitals and health systems to find providers and schedule appointments. We discovered that a startling 75% of them could not find an available appointment with an appropriate provider within a three-week timeframe. In addition, 90% of call centers were unable to find an appropriate provider who matched the patient’s availability preferences. Finally, 82% could not schedule an appointment for the patient in that first phone interaction, making for a frustrating start to the patient’s experience with an organization.
One of the primary reasons why this scheduling barrier exists is a lack of enterprise-wide visibility into provider availability. This barrier is often due to disparate scheduling systems and procedures in use across networks. Our findings are consistent with other research on this critical step in the patient journey: another recent survey found that people in the U.S. wait an average of 24 days to get a new doctor appointment in 15 major cities. And in Boston, where we’re headquartered, the average wait time was a staggering 52 days! These statistics are alarming, as patients are forced to wait days – even months – to get an appointment. Not only do long wait times jeopardize clinical outcomes, but they also negatively influence patient experience. For health systems, this can also translate to unconverted patient demand and patient leakage as patients “shop around” for more timely appointments.
As we explored in the first post in this series, call center agents often lack the ability to see the full range of providers who would be well-suited to the patient’s needs. The combination of gaps in visibility into clinical expertise and availability contributes to the pervasive problem of underutilized physicians. For example, if a patient calls in and the agent defers to a well-known specialist who is booked solid for weeks, the patient is forced to wait—or call a different organization for care—while open slots go unutilized on other providers’ calendars. However, if the agent had access to a comprehensive, searchable provider directory and real-time insight on provider availability, he/she might see that a new provider with an equivalent skill set could see the patient much sooner. This would get the patient quicker access to care, supporting better outcomes, higher patient satisfaction, and improved provider utilization.
In order to ensure timely access to care and avoid losing patients to competing organizations, health systems need to empower call center agents with visibility into provider availability across the enterprise. With provider directories, patient-provider matching technology, and enterprise-wide appointment booking, health systems can knock down major barriers to patient access and deliver a top-notch patient experience in the process.
Check out the full Health System Call Center Experience Report here.