March 27, 2020 | InBrief

How hospitals can manage call volume during the COVID-19 pandemic

How hospitals can manage call volume during the COVID-19 pandemic

There’s no question the COVID-19 crisis is deeply impacting our nation’s hospitals and health systems – and the reverberations will likely be felt for years to come. Aside from caring for critically ill patients, health systems need to rapidly increase capacity for coronavirus patients.

On March 18, CMS, the Surgeon General, and the American College of Surgeons urged hospitals to postpone non-urgent elective procedures. Some states have gone even further and placed moratoriums on elective surgeries.

Patient access centers, the front line for patient communication, will bear the brunt of these decisions as they not only cope with the appointment cancelations, but a wide range of other patient needs that may be increasing due to the current crisis, including scheduling, nurse triage, medication refills, and clinical prep instructions.

To free up associates to address more urgent calls, patient access centers can use some common tools that many access centers already have to communicate cancellation information.

Here are three quick actions that health systems should consider to help reduce or deflect volume while they grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic:

  1. Add a HIPAA-compliant message to the highest level of the interactive voice response system, website, and patient portal that explains that all nonessential appointments, surgeries or procedures are being cancelled. Instruct patients to wait to attempt to reschedule appointments until more information is available
  2. Create an outbound dialing campaign to notify patients with upcoming nonessential appointments, surgeries or procedures that their appointment is being cancelled. This message should also include instructions on what steps to take next. For example, ask them to wait until a future date to attempt to reschedule or tell them patients will be contacted by an associate when scheduling is reopened. Consider setting up an additional campaign later when rescheduling is available.
  3. Leverage information gathered from the campaign to identify which calls were answered by a live person and which were unanswered or went to voicemail to determine who may require additional follow-up.

By using tools and processes already in place, patient access centers can avoid spending additional budget on outreach while staying nimble. The ultimate result is that associates can then use their time to respond to the most urgent needs of their patients.

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