April 14, 2020 | InBrief

Patient access centers: Navigating the rapid journey to new remote work

Patient access centers: Navigating the rapid journey to new remote work
Patient access centers: navigating the rapid journey to new remote work

In the midst of today’s global health crisis, health systems are having to rapidly deploy their non-patient facing workforce for remote work. More specifically, this means shifting patient access center staff who generally serve as the first point of contact for patients, fielding the majority of patient interactions, and whose duties do not require them to be on-site, to work 100% remotely. Adapting to and thriving in this new way of working has quickly become essential to the access center function of health systems’ operations.

How is this shift achieved? Below are four stages we have identified for health systems to accelerate a move to a fully remote and productive patient access center.

1. Physically migrate

This involves transitioning your patient access staff physically into the work-from-home model. To do this, you will need to review and ensure that the following areas are addressed:

  • Technology – Laptops, monitors, headsets, telephony, chat, and other channels can seamlessly route patients to the appropriate staff.
  • Application access – Ensure staff has access to the core systems they need to perform their role, including: EHR (electronic health record), provider matching tool, knowledge management systems, pricing estimators, verification instruments, work queues, and internal collaboration tools.
  • Security – Ensure HIPAA compliance, safety protocols from cyber-attacks, and data handling processes are tailored and thought through such that proper safety and security is protected, especially at times of particular vulnerability when the possibility of cyberattacks is high.
  • Policies and procedures – Create clear guidelines around remote work, performance, overall expectations, escalation paths, and more.
  • Expedited change management and communication – Your organization is absorbing substantial change all at once. Non-critical projects may need to be paused until you can stabilize your remote teams. Communication is key to successfully keeping teams focused on delivering high-quality service to your patients. Acknowledge that this may be new for everyone – supervisors, leads, and managers may require additional support as staff oversight techniques change.
  • Work environment readiness – Ensure that the staff member’s home environment is equipped, secure, and ready for productive and successful remote work. This may require including a new dimension to your QA process to assess if staff members’ home locations are delivering adequate employee and patient experiences. Progressive organizations realize this change impacts everyone; while it is acceptable for the patient to know that staff is working from home, the overall level of experience should not change.

2. Return to baseline performance

Once you successfully migrate your staff to a remote environment, your first order of business should be ensuring that all staff is productive and successful in their role with this new model. In the immediate term after establishing work-from-home, organizations should anticipate that they may need to adjust their KPIs and productivity expectations. Returning to baseline KPIs – average speed of answer, first call resolution, abandonment rate, agent utilization, number of accounts financially cleared, point-of-service collections, pre-registration percentage, number of referrals worked – may take weeks or months to achieve. Anticipated impacts on operational targets and KPIs should be communicated to key stakeholders and new baselines should be established early. That way, your organization can continue measuring and adapting during stabilization and push to get back to pre-migration levels once your operation is stable.

3. Maintain ongoing engagement and productivity

Once the initial migration occurs and baseline productivity is achieved, it is essential to continue monitoring not only performance metrics but also the emotional well-being of individuals in order to maintain engagement and productivity. People stay at your organization for a reason, and culture is key to a successful operation. Tenured staff may miss their daily in-office routines and newer staff may lack focus when they do not have the presence of leaders and mentors in their day-to-day.Consider relaxing your adherence goals for the stabilization period and look for new ways to measure employee state of mind. This can be done via anonymous employee surveys to help you get a sense of staff experience with remote work. Virtual one-on-ones and coaching sessions should also be implemented so that recurring pulse checks still occur and any feedback can be discussed. You may want to consider increasing the frequency of these check-ins, especially early in the transition. These sessions will help identify any issues that need to be addressed to increase engagement and ensure productivity is not negatively impacted.

4. Scale the remote Access Center

Once you are operating in a fully virtual manner, the focus should turn to the scalability of the remote model as your organization continues to grow. This is an opportunity to reassess technology needs, adjust hiring profiles to include remote staff, outline a sustainable virtual interviewing, hiring and onboarding program, and implement new standard operating procedures. You should expect to continually assess your remote access center model and put plans in place to address increased turnover or gaps that are identified during the transition.

Near-term needs, long-term success

“Normal” as we know it has shifted, and the impacts of this shift will likely be felt for some time. While a fully remote workforce may not be desirable long term, do not abandon hard-earned operational advantages that make your access center more agile to consistently provide service in an uncertain world.

Interested in learning more? Check out our podcasts:

  • Innovating on Customer Service and Cost Reduction in response to COVID-19
  • Best Practices to Enable Work-from-Home Customer Service Professionals

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