Health systems and hospitals are increasing their emphasis on improving patient access to attract new patients and retain existing ones. Access centers and their staff play a central role in this initiative, yet they face unnecessary hurdles with such essential tasks as finding an appropriate provider and booking appointments.
The five key points about access centers below can help health system leaders understand and improve this “front door” to their organizations.
- Access centers are the point of entry to your health system.
- The patient experience starts when a patient calls an access center and speaks with an agent, beginning the patient-provider matching process and setting the tone for the patient’s relationship with the organization.
- Patient satisfaction scores may be attributed to the effectiveness of patient service in the access center.
- Agents must take into account dozens of factors -- clinical and non-clinical -- to navigate patients to the right provider at the right location at the right time.
- Access center agents often rely on limited, manually maintained provider information.
- Provider and practice data commonly exists in variable formats (e.g., Post-it notes, Excel documents, protocol binders, and within agent working memory), making it nearly impossible for agents to get a complete, accurate view of the provider network.
- Multiple data formats can lead to outdated, inaccurate provider information that hinders efficient and effective patient routing.
- The lack of up-to-date provider information impacts both the patient experience and the health system’s ability to convert demand into booked appointment slots.
- Access center agents utilize multiple separate IT systems, creating overly complex workflows.
- Multiple scheduling systems are common in health systems, especially across inpatient and ambulatory settings complicating the appointment booking process for agents.
- Agents use a variety of other IT systems in their access workflows, including EMRs, Google / GoogleMaps, call center tracking software, and CRM systems.
- Multiple separate systems contribute to longer call times and pose barriers to booking appointments, detracting from the patient experience and hurting call conversion.
- An effective access center can play a key role in increasing revenue.
- Matching patients to the right providers increases patient satisfaction, which in turn supports retention within your health system.
- Agents with visibility into network-wide provider availability can pull patient appointments forward by more evenly distributing patient demand and increasing provider capacity utilization.
- Directly booking patient appointments allows agents to increase call-to-appointment conversion and drive up overall appointment volume.
- Access centers face relatively high rates of turnover.
- Average employee turnover for call centers (across industries) is 30-45% annually1
- Access center leaders frequently need to onboard new staff agents, a lengthy process due to the complexity of unique provider information that must be learned
- Agents that support multiple specialties can benefit greatly from the right decision-support technology to help them perform well and increase employee satisfaction.
When run effectively, access centers play a strategic role in driving demand conversion and promoting patient loyalty with a high-touch experience and can have a major effect on the bottom line. However, health system leaders must address issues around disjointed workflows and outdated information that hinder productivity and morale. Investing in these areas enables agents to triage calls more effectively, promoting satisfaction among patients, providers, and access center staff alike.
1Quality Assurance and Training Connection, Exploring Call Center Turnover Numbers, 2015