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July 19, 2023
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From bottleneck to breakthrough: three steps to transform patient access with contact center automation

Unlock the power of contact center automation in healthcare. Follow these three steps to improve efficiency and enhance the patient experience.

Trevor Jonas
From bottleneck to breakthrough: three steps to transform patient access with contact center automation

The contact center has long been an unsung hero in healthcare. It helps connect patients to caregivers and manages dozens of scheduling, billing, and triage requests. Despite playing such a crucial role, the contact center is often neglected and underserved when it comes to technology. Over the past decade, healthcare has become more digital due to the electronic health record (EHR). Even with this digitization, most healthcare contact centers continue to serve as the primary way patients access care, despite the fact that a majority of patients do not want to use the phone for such tasks. That’s where contact center automation comes in.

Among other things, automation enables patients to self-schedule appointments and fill out intake and registration forms when and where it's most convenient. Put simply, it gives patients more control over their care experience. For health systems, implementing automated, digital-first experiences means they can rely less on the contact center. If you’re ready to reduce your overreliance on the contact center, the following are three proven steps to get you there.

Step 1: Identify the workflows with the highest potential for return on investment (ROI)

Research indicates that most patients do not want to schedule care via phone. Yet, over 70% of contact center volume comes from appointment scheduling, rescheduling, and cancellations.

Perform an analysis of current inbound and outbound call volumes. Use this as a baseline, and segment out different categories for high-volume calls. Using this trend data, calculate the total time spent on each call type to use as a general proxy for potential automation ROI.

Armed with this initial data, assess what percentage of current call volume could be automated. For example, can inbound calls to your contact center be redirected to a self-service tool? Along with this analysis, assess the following factors that contribute to the overall value of managing a call with automation as opposed to staff:


  • How easy or difficult is it to train agents to perform the task effectively? Can the task be broken down into repeatable, standardized steps? 
  • For example, patient verification can involve several steps, require staff to access multiple systems, and demands delicate handling to stay within privacy rules. Automation technology can quickly and accurately perform patient verification using techniques like voice recognition.

Patient impact 

  • How much value does a human touchpoint add or subtract from the interaction? 
  • For example, patients may not see much difference in getting an appointment reminder via call or voicemail compared to an automated text, but they may be more inclined to speak to a human when it comes to payment reminders for a large outstanding balance.

Cost of an error 

  • How much value is lost when agents make mistakes? 
  • For example, front-end registration errors can lead to back-end denials that are expensive to address.

The difference in performance 

  • How much more or less effectively can the workflow be performed by a person compared to automation? 
  • For example, artificial intelligence (AI) can be more accurate than trained staff in selecting the right insurance plan.

The following table identifies three workflows that health systems generally like to start with for effective contact center automation.

Top candidate workflows for contact center automation

Step 2: Identify the right automation partner and dial-in the implementation plan

When it comes to automation and AI technology in healthcare, choosing the right partner is critical. The ideal contact center automation partner will collaborate seamlessly with your IT department. They will work with your implementation team to ensure they consider all perspectives, and they will not take a transactional approach to contact center automation. Instead, the focus will be on building a long-term relationship based on mutual growth and success. 

The following are five areas of emphasis that can help ensure a smooth implementation.

  • Project planning. This should be a detailed plan that includes key tasks, timelines, and responsibilities. It will be the guide that helps set expectations and keep the overall project on track.
  • Technical assessment. You should thoroughly review existing infrastructure, and identify any technical constraints that must be addressed before implementation.
  • Data migration. The healthcare contact center frequently engages with highly sensitive data like patient records and billing information. It is essential, and sometimes, even regulated, that data being moved from an old system to a new one be completed without loss or corruption. Be sure to apply a rigorous data mapping process to determine how data from the old system will fit into the new one.
  • Integration with existing systems. Regardless of your EHR, the contact center automation platform you choose must work seamlessly with it. Don’t overlook other critical tools, like your customer relationship management (CRM) software, where protected health information (PHI) must be able to flow securely between systems in order to maintain compliance.
  • Equal attention to the patient and back-end staff. The patient experience is critical, however, the experience of back-end staff should be equally considered. Automations that make things easier for the patient and still require manual, administrative work for back-end staff only solve half of the problem.

Today, modern health systems are rapidly deploying technologies that deliver a highly personalized patient experience on the front end, while simultaneously eliminating back-end administrative work.

Step 3: Measure the impact and iterate on your contact center automation over time

Even the best-planned contact center automation program can improve after implementation. The most successful health systems embrace an iterative approach. That means focusing on the highest-priority workflows that will drive the most value first. Earlier, we identified patient registration, referrals, and appointment reminders as priority workflows.

With your priority automations in place, focus on rapid and consistent feedback from patients and staff. Surveys and focus groups can help identify problems with the technology or training. The identified issues should take precedence in terms of handling. Collecting baseline data, like call duration, first call resolution rates, and agent idle times, also helps leadership determine the effectiveness and efficiency of implemented automations.

Here are several key performance indicators (KPIs) to consider for call center automation:

  • Patient satisfaction
  • Average handle time (AHT)
  • Call volume
  • Call deflection rates
  • Agent or staff time saved

Freeing time for contact center agents should be an overarching goal of any automated digital front door strategy. With that time, agents can focus on the most complex patient challenges and better help drive loyalty.

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