The Emerging Healthcare Call Center Opportunity: Fewer Agents, Unlimited Scale, Better Engagement

By Greg Kefer, CMO, LifeLink Systems.

Greg Kefer

Whether it’s a recording in an unknown language, or a promise to get rich, or an offer for free solar panels, the volume of useless, intrusive noise has trained everyone to scrutinize every inbound call because phone calls that matter have increasingly become the minority.

While that call could have been from the doctor, or something important, the live connection was missed and now the cat and mouse game between patient and provider begins. For legitimate call centers that are charted to reach out, connect and help solve problems, the time has come to rethink how to drive better engagement and more scale. The answer isn’t to quadruple the number of agents.

According to some estimates, US mobile phone users were exposed to 48 billion robocalls in 2018, which means that every time the phone rings, there’s a 50% chance it’s a spam robocall.

Silence Unknown Callers

There are few viable solutions available for blocking 100% of these annoying intrusions, so the best option when that unknown phone number shows on the caller ID is to simply hit the decline button and move on with whatever you were doing.

Robocalls are essentially creating “anti-call center muscle memory” across the entire mobile phone user population. And that’s a problem for the healthcare industry.

Call centers have always been a big part of the healthcare patient experience. Challenges with being on hold, ineffective agents, and general customer dissatisfaction with call centers are well documented. But what about the outbound side?

 Scale Up Digital Agents

The healthcare industry is investing heavily in engaging patients, and call centers are a key part of that strategy. The penetration of smartphones is nearing 80% of US adults, so mobile is the right platform. The question is how.

Outbound calling campaigns that are designed to help patients navigate their care, set appointments, take medicines, or check in after a visit are important touch points. If people stop answering their phones, what happens? Email outreach is frequently intercepted by spam filters and most patients don’t know how to log into or use their healthcare apps.

Scale is also an issue. For example, the contact tracing programs that ramped up to avoid the spread of COVID-19 demonstrated the challenges in reaching people by phone. Despite efforts, there was little significant documented success of phone-based contact tracing making a dent in the spread of Coronavirus. There simply wasn’t any way for human agents to reach tens of millions of people by phone in a timely manner.

Call centers have always been constrained by human capacity. When it comes to dealing with health care situations, historically there have not been a lot of viable automation options that blend a quality, well designed engagement experience with a high-scale system. Anybody that has received a robocall doctor’s appointment reminder knows how DIS-engaging that is.

Heavy investment in call center technology that’s focused on intelligent patient information and agent enablement is still key. But in cases where a call center is chartered with reaching out to patients as part of a multitude of patient engagement efforts, is there a new opportunity at hand?

Imagine augmenting call center agent teams with an army of digital assistants that could pick up 80% of the routine workload and handle it automatically. Rather than voice calls, they would tap the messaging capability of the smartphone, which is something that people use and interact with heavily. And, importantly, the human call center teams would be freed up to handle the higher end, frequently important edge cases that represent the other 20% of the volume.

Augmenting Call Center Teams with Conversational Digital Assistants

Conversational chatbots that communicate with people in an interactive way, such as text messaging, are finding their way into several industries. As we see more and more healthcare organizations adopting this type of technology, we are beginning to see chatbots woven into the outbound call center approach. The bot could completely handle simple tasks, such as reminders and information gathering. Or, it could start on some of the more advanced workflows, such as monitoring care progression or providing drug background information in advance of a human to human interaction.

As they stand today, call center agents are premium level expenses when compared to a well-designed chatbot that can run 24x7x365. Imagine a call center not constrained by human capacity.

If an organization is tasked with contacting 300,000 individuals as part of a regional COVID-19 vaccination program, does it make sense to hire thousands of human agents to do that?

The virtual dimension of a modern patient engagement strategy requires outreach and interaction with vast populations of patients, but the answer isn’t to double the number of agents. Rather, you must find a way to make the ten agents you already have handle a 5x volume increase, with conversational chatbots conversing and engaging patients across a spectrum of workflows. And the entire process would be in the medium that consumers increasingly prefer — interactive messaging on their phones.

The odds of reaching someone and helping them with their care can only increase.

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