Top questions on call center automation, answered.

Before the COVID-19 global pandemic, most industries shifted their strategies to cater to heightening consumer demands for touchless experiences. These innovations, marked by no longer relying on human-to-human interaction and instead a combination of digital technologies, were slower to appear in healthcare. This is no longer the case.  

For healthcare organizations, the shift to digitized solutions remains imperative as many continue to play catch up. A long-term, sustainable solution must leverage modern technologies to relieve the pressure on teams and budgets while creating the seamless experience patients expect. Nowhere is this more evident than the call center. 

Creating conversation around call center automation

Understandably, there is a swirl of questioning around these topics, especially for an industry which is rooted in human-to-human interactions. For good reason, many health system IT leaders view emerging technologies with skepticism as so many previous investments have failed to produce meaningful returns. However, call center modernization requires new technologies and approaches to both new and  long-standing challenges. Our recent whitepaper, The Definitive Guide to Call Center Workflow Automation, explored these issues in depth including the impact of the patient experience on customer retention and a three-step approach to call center transformation. 

We also recently hosted a webinar with Becker's to deepen the discourse  on this timely topic. The discussion centered on transformation of the currently non-digital front door at health systems into a digital one and how intelligent automation can help overwhelmed call center staff. Through these conversations, we also fielded a variety of questions. After all, transforming the call center, the processes of which are the basis of a patient’s clinical and financial trajectory, is no small feat. 

With an increasing number of provider organizations realizing that antiquated workflows in the call center are compromising the patient experience, staff engagement, and operational efficiency, many are turning to digital solutions in one form or another to manage the patients’ entries into their health system and ensure they return.

Intelligent automation as a critical call center component

Call centers are more than intake mechanisms. They’re the backbone of an organization that interfaces with patients, routing them to the most appropriate care setting, provider, and appointment type. The information they collect not only informs the patient’s care journey but how the organization is reimbursed for it. And for most organizations, it is not possible to keep pace with current volume and consistently ensure the collection of high-fidelity information. 

This is where digital solutions can help if implemented strategically. Health system leaders must assess their tech stack as well as the cause behind their volume. What many realize is that work volume cannot only be accelerated. Work queues must be eliminated. 

How is this possible? Intelligent automation blends AI, RPA, and engagement tools to replace manual processes with automated ones while enhancing the quality of the information collected and the patient experience when providing it. In fact, these systems can add consistency and accuracy, also helping to put an end to costly human errors while refocusing staff on the most complex tasks that require human intervention. 

A few examples of this in action include:

  • Eliminating intake calls with automated forms to collect details and insurance card information
  • Providing single-click scheduling for patients aligned with the proper providers
  • Populating EMR records with information collected during the intake process
  • Analyzing payer details to confirm authorization needs in advance of a visit or procedure
  • Automating digital notifications including appointment reminders 

The list goes on, but imagine just how much a health system’s call volume could decrease given these few scenarios. The opportunity for streamlined processes, and ROI, is immense. 

Answering common questions about intelligent automation in the call center 

One of the most popular, and understandable, questions our team gets asked is how to get started with call center automation in the first place. Our experts approach the topic by breaking the process down into three broad areas:

1. Defining the highest ROI of workflows to automate. This is where leaders evaluate their individual challenges and consider which changes can have the biggest impact. A common starting point for most organizations includes prior authorizations, registration, referrals, and appointment reminders. 

2. Implementing supporting technology where appropriate. It’s important to understand that disparate systems tend to create more work than they streamline. Be sure to keep the patient experience first and foremost and look for a technology partner that works with existing systems without overcomplicating matters for existing staff. 

3. Measuring the impact and iterating along the way. Waiting for the right place, right time, and right tech will leave health systems far behind. Systems are constantly evolving, and choosing an iterative approach to call center automation can incorporate staff and patient experience feedback while also lessening strain on internal IT resources.

To guide the conversation further and give health system leaders with talking points within their own organizations, we have put together some other common questions about call center automation.

What types of organizations should consider re-imagining their call center?

Hospitals, health systems, and medical groups of any size can benefit from workflow automation in the call center. As a result, our partners include large multi-specialty groups such as Austin Regional Clinic, and multi-state health systems such as CommonSpirit Health. 

The unifying thread among healthcare providers who decide to apply intelligent automation to the call center is the recognition that current practices rely on manual, error-prone workflows that produce poor and staff patient experiences, revenue leakage, and suboptimal patient care.

What kind of integration should power the call center? 

Reimagined call centers should be powered by seamless connectivity into any existing system EHR, billing system, practice management system, or CRM through RPA and FHIR integration. This approach to integrations should improve the patient experience while simultaneously enhancing operational efficiency for call center staff.

Can intelligent automation be applied to specialty scheduling?

Intelligent automation can improve scheduling workflows, even in the complex world of specialties and subspecialties. First, it is essential to understand the clinical guidelines required to route patients to the correct visit type and specialist. Intelligent automation is well-suited to nimbly handle this complexity. 

At Notable, the basis for this automation is our Intelligent Clinical Intakes, which ask patients dynamic questions about their care. Based on the responses, digital assistants route the patient to the correct visit type and provider. Given that specialty scheduling represents a large proportion of call center work, retaining manual--or even hardcoded--processes, it must be addressed to impactfully apply intelligent automation to the call center.

How does intelligent automation in the call center work alongside other technologies and applications?

To align the call center with the mission of the health system, healthcare leaders must reimagine today’s reactive, undifferentiated call centers into proactive, differentiated patient service centers. They must transform the call center from a source of patient frustration to a source of competitive advantage, from a cost inflator to a driver of operational efficiency. 

Doing so requires a fundamental reimagining of the underlying technology supporting the call center. Traditional technology solutions like CRM, IVR, and chatbots are focused on increasing agent productivity. Many organizations that have implemented these solutions have seen an incremental but not transformational impact on how their call center supports patients. These only address part of the problem by focusing on improving how call center staff manage overwhelming call volume rather than reducing the number of calls in the first place. 

In contrast, intelligent automation empowers health systems to reimagine how the call center operates by eliminating calls upstream, removing the need for over 50% of all calls. Appointment reminder calls can be replaced by AI-triggered text and SMS notifications. Calls to the payer to process prior authorizations can be replaced by digital assistants submitting information through a payer portal. Digital registration can be offered via self-service conversational forms instead of over the phone. This frees agent time for higher touch, personalized service in a way that compliments a holistic digital front door experience. 

What results has Notable driven with call centers?

Notable has driven outsized returns with our partner organizations. Common outcomes include:

  • 97% patient satisfaction
  • 300% increase in self-pay collections
  • 85% patient engagement
  • 83% reduction in eligibility and registration-related denials
  • 700+ calls eliminated annually per provider
  • 64% reduction in no-show rate

In 2021, we partnered with a healthcare organization in the southwest U.S. with over 350 providers and 1.1 million encounters to modernize their patient experience and transform their call center operations. One of the organization’s biggest strategic goals was to improve patient experiences by leveraging technology to eliminate manual processes. With Notable, the organization automated the end-to-end patient registration workflow for their central business office.

Seventy-eight percent of the organization’s patient registrations no longer require any human staff involvement, and their patients reported a 94% satisfaction rate with the new digital experience. This also had a transformational impact on their central business office. They project elimination of over 223,000 calls per year through automated outreach and digital registration in addition to the reduction of over 635,000 work queue items. This will create over $790,000 in staff time savings. 

What is the best way to handle staff concerns about intelligent automation?

According to Advisory Board research on intelligent automation, "The notion that bots and humans have an either/or relationship is flawed. Automation technologies are most effective when used to enhance the quality and productivity of human labor. Most health care workflows require some element of human involvement. But with effective intelligent automation, humans operate only at top-of-license: that means the fewest touchpoints possible with automatable workflows, and time spent on the tasks – or patients – that most need their attention." 

These principles are especially relevant to the call center. Automating manual workflows in this setting enables staff to spend more time delivering the highest value patient interactions and tasks. It offers a world-class patient experience through personalized, omnichannel engagement that allows every patient to be served through the ideal mix of digital and in-person channels. 

Most importantly, call centers are transformed into patient service centers that align to the mission of the health system, enriching the patient experience and improving outcomes while reducing the cost of care.

Dive deeper into how intelligent automation from Notable can modernize health system call center operations. Download our latest whitepaper.