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The Hidden Challenge Of Healthcare Communications

by Mark Bedard, Director of Marketing, Parlance Corporation - May 30, 2017

The Hidden Challenge of Healthcare Communications
There is a hidden challenge in the world of healthcare communications -- one that impacts not only healthcare operations, but the caller experience and patient satisfaction as well. The challenge is centered around one of the most important communications destinations in any healthcare network -- the switchboard. In fact, you might consider healthcare switchboard operators the unsung heroes of healthcare due to the difficulties of the position and the remarkable commitment shown by switchboard operators in delivering excellent service for both internal and external customers alike.
Call Handling Challenges

The position of healthcare switchboard operator is perhaps the most difficult customer service position in any industry. A switchboard operator's many call handling duties directly influence the healthcare brand, and continuously ensure the hospital's most frequently used communications medium remains responsive and reliable in meeting requests for physicians, departments, scheduling, employees, information, and other common needs. Meanwhile, they must also strive to deliver excellent service to callers with more complex requests or needs—often donning a detective's badge to help the caller find the right department, employee or resource. There are also answering service duties to provide for medical offices. Contact directory databases to manage and maintain. Patients to connect with internal resources or external access lines. Meeting the many different call handling needs of the hospital is a multifaceted and crucial role to play.
Take for instance this list of common call handling duties in healthcare, compiled from job posting sites Monster, Indeed, and Career Builder:
  • Greet public callers, understand their need, and connect them to the appropriate destination
  • Connect internal callers to requested destinations
  •  Provide external phone line access to employees
  • Assist patients in making external calls
  • Provide security coverage as needed
  • Provide concierge/receptionist coverage as needed
  • Maintain contact directory database and act as the facility contact data expert
  • Assist in scheduling of conference calls, and track via call log
  • Assist in scheduling of conference rooms, and track via appointment log
  • Notify telecommunications/IT staff of any voice network problems
  • Take messages for physicians, executives, and other employees
  • Provide after-hours answering service functions for medical offices
Non-call Handling Challenges
Yet, call handling duties are often just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to a hospital switchboard operator's responsibilities. The many non-call handling duties operators are responsible for adds an entirely new layer of workload complexity. Medical codes to announce, track, and clear. Medical gases and monitor. Refrigerator, fire, and elevator alarms to monitor. MedFlight responses to coordinate. Security and concierge coverage to provide. Suffice it to say that the combined duties of a switchboard operator in healthcare are more far reaching and vital to callers, operations, and the brand than they are in any other industry.
Below are listed some of the common non-call handling duties of hospital switchboard operators, as listed on Monster, Indeed, and Career Builder:
  • Announce, clear, and track medical codes via code log
  • Page staff and personnel as needed, track via page log
  • Coordinate medical response to inbound ambulances and MedFlights
  • Monitor medical gas supplies
  • Notify security and medical staff of any external emergencies that may impact the hospital
  • Maintain on-call schedule and provide on-call information to staff and employees
  • Initiate emergency/adverse event procedures and notify key personnel, update procedure manuals as needed
  • Schedule diagnostics procedures on behalf of patients and medical staff
  • Support morgue attendant duties and coordinate with funeral directors
  • Assist in filing, data entry, and other clerical duties as needed
  • Provide security and concierge department coverage, as needed
And this ongoing and crushing workload is not without its' consequences. Frequently, when operators are occupied with an important non-call handling duty – such as an urgent medical code – inbound calls can go unattended until the operators have executed on each step in their coding process. callers, meanwhile, have no perspective on the urgent nature of the situation (which could indeed be a matter of life and death for a patient in distress). To them, the healthcare facility is simply unresponsive, disorganized, or unreliable.
How then does the healthcare network ensure a positive caller experience—even in the face of overwhelming call loads or operators' need to see to an important non-call handling function?
New Solutions Ease the Burden
Luckily, there are new solutions that can help operators meet the expectations of callers and reduce switchboard workload in order to create greater bandwidth for their many duties. Today's advanced self-service solutions allow callers to speak naturally, and interact with them in the same manner as a live operator. With no menus, instructions, or hoops to jump through, callers with routine requests can quickly and easily get to their destination or information in seconds. Callers with more complex requests are immediately connected to an available operator for specialized assistance. These new solutions are fast and simple for the caller—the complete opposite of traditional auto attendants or IVRs. The result is a high degree of user acceptance and self-service that eases the operator workload burden. Recent studies have shown that these new "virtual operators" can reduce call volume to operators by as much as 50% while ensuring high levels of service and caller satisfaction.
While hospital switchboard operators strive daily to deliver excellent service to patients, family, physicians, employees, and other callers, the competing nature of their call handling and non-call handling responsibilities often infringes upon this goal. Combining advanced self-service with a talented operator staff helps solve the challenge to ensure operators can not only remain available to assist callers with complex needs, but also to see to their many other important non-call handling functions.




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