Since the coronavirus struck in early 2020, telemedicine, the clinical part of telehealth, is booming. Medical call centers are experiencing an influx of requests for telemedicine services. This type of healthcare was already on the uptick before the pandemic. However private insurance and Medicare would only reimburse a few visit types.
Since spring, the US government has relaxed regulations to make it easier for high-risk and rural patients to get medical care from home. As a result, telemedicine has become common and will undoubtedly remain an option for patients after the COVID-19 crisis has passed. Currently, it has become an essential tool for reaching sick and isolated patients and limiting the spread of the coronavirus.
What Does a Medical Call Center Do?
Providers need a communications platform in order to handle telemedicine scheduling and appointments. Individual facilities cannot handle these communications on their own. Making telehealth connections simply overwhelms their staff and inhibits patient care.
Medical call centers serve as an essential liaison between patients, administrative staff and medical professionals. These specialized call centers operate 24/7 and schedule appointments, arrange referrals and dispatch services, ensuring that patients get the answers and help that they need. Some centers are staffed with medical professionals, such as nurses, who offer medical advice directly.
Rise of Telemedicine
Since the demand for telemedicine has exploded, medical call centers needed to become more efficient to meet provider and patient needs. When the pandemic first struck, providers often recommended calling ahead before visiting a hospital or clinic. These measures could reduce the strain on facilities and to help slow the spread of the virus.
A medical professional would attempt to diagnose the conditions over the phone and then recommend a course of action. These calls delivered a clinical service and so were considered telemedicine visits. Patients also began to use video chats to consult with their physicians to receive medical advice, referrals and prescriptions.
Patients began to truly embrace telemedicine once Medicare eased restrictions on telehealth. Now most of these visits are covered the same way they would in-person visits.
Before this change in coverage, approximately 13,000 Medicare patients used telemedicine each week. Afterward, that number shot to 1.7 million during the height of the crisis in the Northeast. Experts estimate that between 60 to 90% of physicians are now using some sort of telehealth services.
While that number may be less once the pandemic is over, telemedicine will undoubtedly remain a popular option for patients who have ambulatory issues or who live in rural areas. Medical call centers need to adapt to handle that many patients in the long term.
Callbacks Not Reaching Patients
Recent FCC efforts to reduce spam calls means carriers have been aggressively blocking more calls to protect consumers. Unfortunately, that means that some calls from medical professionals have been mistakenly blocked. As such, patients aren’t getting the advice that they need.
Many patients have complained on community forums that carriers blocked vital medical calls, adversely affecting their health care and wasting the time of overburdened providers. In their attempt to protect the public, carriers have sometimes inadvertently harmed them.
Contact Tracing Affected
Contact tracing is essential to fighting COVID-19. When someone falls ill with this disease, healthcare workers try to notify all the people the patient has been in close contact with. Unfortunately, many people have stopped answering calls from numbers they do not recognize. Robocallers have become so skilled at spoofing that even calls that appear local are often spam or scams. This dynamic has hindered contract tracing and hinders healthcare efforts. People simply do not trust unknown callers.
Tips to Manage a Medical Call Center
Effective management is key to a successful medical call center. These centers function in many ways like blended call centers, conducting both inbound and outbound calls. However, compliance is much more essential. Plus, you need to focus on other factors, such as caller ID and patient trends to establish your trustworthiness.
Abide by Healthcare Compliance
First and foremost, abiding by regulations and privacy is essential to your center’s success. In addition to following standard call center regulations, you must adhere to HIPPA, which guarantees that patients’ medical records will remain private and protected. Violating HIPPA is a serious offense and will instantly ruin your reputation and leave you open to lawsuits. Intense HIPPA training is necessary for all staff members to protect your business and your clients.
Maintain Caller ID
You must monitor your phone numbers to make certain your caller ID is coming through as it should and not being marked “Scam Likely” or “Spam Risk.” Your patients must be confident that your call can be trusted. They are leery due to the many current phone scams, but also because of the sensitive nature of the calls. Patients are especially concerned that their private medical details could be leaked by an illegitimate company. Your call center’s caller ID can help build branding and trust for your organization or practice.
Also, monitoring your numbers to ensure they are not being blocked or flagged is essential for reaching patients in a timely manner. You need to check this status routinely and immediately take steps to fix any incorrect flags.
Build Your Processes to Scale
Medical call centers often have to operate 24/7, and they can see a call surge at any time as a result of emergency situations. Call numbers can vary wildly depending on disease spread, natural disasters, major accidents or other medical issues. To be effective, your call center should be ready to serve patients and the community when needed most. You need to have the necessary staff on call to smoothly manage these surges.
Stay Current with Patient Trends
Telemedicine is booming, in part because more patients are becoming comfortable with consulting with their doctor via a video call or regular phone call. Call centers that traditionally serviced patients over the phone should consider adopting the latest technology to keep up with their patients, who now want more comprehensive and sophisticated care through telemedicine. This current crisis has raised their expectations.
Whether you offer medical call center services to an individual practice or a nationwide organization, you must be properly prepared in order to achieve success. Telemedicine is here to stay and will continue to expand and reach more Americans. These visits are more convenient for patients and in some instances. Additionally, they are cheaper than a physical visit and allow patients to save valuable time rather than waste an hour in a waiting room.
Telemedicine will always be a supplemental service since everyone needs to see a doctor in person at some point. But telemedicine provides an effective “part-time” alternative, particularly during a medical crisis.