As we explored in an earlier blog, hospitals and health systems are struggling to deliver a great patient experience through their call centers – often the “front door” to their organization – due in large part to barriers to patient access. Over the course of a three post series, we’ll explore some of these top barriers and how they impede a positive patient experience: outdated provider directories, lack of patient-provider matching capabilities, and insight into provider availability.
Provider Directories & Patient Access
While demand for online self-service capabilities continues to rise, many patients still connect with a health system the old-fashioned way – over the phone. However, access centers frequently lack the resources to provide an effective, high-touch patient experience. In fact, our recent secret shopper report found that 82% of call centers were unable to book an appointment directly over the phone during the initial interaction. That’s not just a major barrier to patient access, it also means that most call centers are not equipped to deliver a call center experience that ends with a booked appointment, a big problem for converting demand and retaining patients in increasingly competitive markets.
One of the main reasons call centers are unable to connect patients with the right providers efficiently is a continued reliance on paper- or spreadsheet- based provider directories. These directories have a variety of shortcomings, including:
- They are largely static and quickly become out-of-date
- They are often limited in the scope of provider information they contain
- They don’t provide a single point of access to the data & multiple people can’t access them concurrently
- Agents can’t search them easily or take a variety criteria into account when matching patients
- They require agents to read through extensive written notes to determine scheduling protocols
Even when patients do get appointments, weak provider directories can cause them to end up with a patient-provider mismatch—when providers are not the right fit for their clinical need, don’t take their insurance, are too far away, or don’t fit with other preferences (e.g., gender). For example, our study found that 50% of call centers could not find a provider at a convenient location, one of the top provider criteria for patients. In addition, patients frequently wait too long for appointments due in large part to agents not having full insight into the clinical expertise of providers across the network and when they’re available. This lack of visibility often results in over-reliance on well-known or familiar providers over other clinically appropriate providers who may be able to see the patient sooner.
Mismatches, regardless of the basis for them, can lead to suboptimal clinical outcomes, lower patient satisfaction, and referral leakage – issues health systems could minimize with more detailed, reliable, technology-enabled provider directories. Of course, a robust provider directory is just one of the barriers call centers face in connecting patients with the right provider. To learn more, download the Health System Call Center Experience Report and be sure to check back on our blog for the next post in this series that will address the challenge of matching patients with the most appropriate providers.
Check out our next blog in the Call Center Experience Blog Series, How the Absence of Patient-Provider Matching Capabilities Impairs Patient Access.