Can Healthcare Customer Support Be Provided From Home? Exploring the Technology, Trends and Opportunities

By Kevin Ruthen, chief technology officer, Support.com.

Kevin Ruthen

Customer support plays a critical role in healthcare. In fact, a report from McKinsey and Company on healthcare consumerism found that “customer service ranked second behind only coverage — and ahead of cost and access — when survey participants were asked what features would make a healthcare company most appealing.”

Historically, customer care for the healthcare industry has been delivered by agents housed in brick-and-mortar call center facilities due to the complex security and compliance requirements. As a result, when the pandemic first struck, many call centers were forced to shut down, ultimately to re-open with physical distancing measures that reduced overall capacity. Others sent agents to work remotely, although they were quickly met with a myriad of challenges associated with managing and securing a remote workforce.

Brick-and-mortar centers traditionally use physical controls and in-person monitoring protocols to ensure security, and many were not prepared to adapt these security measures to a virtual environment. Traditional providers ran into issues verifying an agent’s true identity and confirming whether the agent was operating in a secure and private work environment.

Additionally, providers faced challenges securing an agent’s network and hardware from malicious software (i.e. viruses, malware), that could then spread to the rest of the contact center. Without these security measures and verifications in place, these work-from-home agents were at risk of violating HIPAA security and compliance requirements.

Can customer support for healthcare be provided outside the four walls of a call center? Can secure, HIPAA-compliant customer support be delivered by a remote workforce at scale?

Success with WFH support agents – what does this look like?

Homesourcing is a model that enables outsourced work to be delivered by employees working from home, while maintaining or even improving productivity. Homesourcing requires that all of a company’s processes, platforms, tools, security protocols, and culture are redesigned to support home-based employees. The model requires recruiting full-time (W2) employees who have the traits, work ethic, and time management skills to be successful in a remote environment and enables providers to screen for specific skills or industry experience.

For homesourcing to be a viable model for the healthcare industry, it must address three core areas related to customer data – privacy, control, and access.

Using the Latest Tech to Secure a Remote Workforce

Maintaining secure data is critical, especially when agents are working from home using their own networks, and sometimes, devices. Luckily, new technology can help ensure that customer data and the agent’s environment are secure even in a remote environment.

One example is the ability to leverage artificial intelligence (AI) and biometric identifiers to verify an agent’s identity beyond just a username and password. The agent’s location is also verified to ensure they are working in an approved environment. Further, this technology can be used to identify if multiple people are present in the room, or if an agent has left their workspace. It can also detect restricted behavior, such as if an agent is taking notes electronically or on paper.

There are also device-level security measures that can be proactively set up, such as blacklisting and whitelisting the applications and websites accessible through an agent’s workspace. Devices can also pre-emptively restrict electronic data capture, such as an agent taking screenshots or downloading confidential patient information, and prevent external drives from being connected via USB. AI can also be used to detect cameras in the room, and if detected, will automatically turn the agent’s screen black to protect data and send an alert to a supervisor.

Analyzing agent workstations to ensure they meet certain criteria is critical before permitting them to access systems and data with HIPAA-regulated electronic protected health information (ePHI). These criteria include ensuring the workstation has the latest anti-virus updates, sufficient bandwidth, and meets minimum specifications. All communication should also be highly encrypted and conducted via VPN and/or through a virtual desktop interface (VDI).

Using a single, secure platform for remote agents to access patient data helps management have a comprehensive and streamlined way to access reporting and metrics used to manage performance and external reporting and to flag any inappropriate behavior.

Conclusion

The pandemic substantially impacted healthcare systems, physicians, and payers across the value chain and highlighted the need for reliable, secure, high-quality customer care. Providers using a homesourced model integrated with a security-focused technology stack can offer the healthcare industry always-on, HIPAA-compliant customer support and eliminate service interruptions and long waiting times. Prioritizing partnerships with companies that have years of experience with a homesourced model will enable the healthcare industry to provide consistent customer care and ensure business continuity post-COVID and beyond.


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