Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, conversations around remote patient monitoring have spiked in health IT. Healthcare call centers support these initiatives and navigate conversations with patients, explained Charles Boicey, CTO for Clearsense, as he discussed best practices for optimal centers, development projects, and information sharing rules.
Though healthcare has the right components and intentions, Boicey explained how they must look to the practices of other industries. With different business process outsourcing (BPOs) options available, healthcare call centers could benefit by utilizing new technologies.
Call centers aim to be efficient, provide the best resources possible, and boost patient experience. However, matching these needs to the correct vendors can be a complex process, Boicey explained. Health systems must consider options varying from voice, text, and automated responses. Before making these choices, Boicey suggested an organization identify its goals for the following two years.
Natural language processing (NLP) and natural language understanding (NLU) technologies listen in real-time, giving information to agents. This technology can give agents the best information for situations like scheduling. Overall quality can be monitored as well, presenting analytics for full patient interactions and giving scores and feedback.
Based on the cues and information NLP and NLU hears, the technology triggers workflow processes. Boicey described this as the next ladder of maturity.
Digital humans, such as bots or conversational agents, walk patients through various tasks like scheduling, informational components of the organization, and filling prescriptions. Rather than pre-canned responses, Boicey explained these bots receive information from a scraped graph.
"There's a lot of really interesting technologies that really support this activity, and it's really satisfying for the client. And what's really interesting is especially with these conversational agents, nine times out of ten, they don't even know that they're speaking to an artificial human," he said.
Call centers that are just starting must begin with the concept of infrastructure as a service, according to Boicey. Relatedly, developers must keep a future-minded approach to infrastructure to avoid problems down the road.
"It really is about choosing the right infrastructure and the right place for this--whether it be a cloud multi-cloud on-premise, whatever that might be-- but really understanding that our technologies are going to be exponentially changed over the course of time," he said.
Additionally, organizations should also be wary against putting themselves in a box by not understanding vendor out-clauses, he warned. Without considering these clauses, health systems run the risk of being stuck in service contracts which do not grow at the pace of innovation necessary to match competition.
“You’ve got to not think of the technology from end-to-end. You've got to understand the component parts of that technology and how they play the role so that if there's a change or a need to change it out, you're able to change it out,” he said.
Call center analytics can produce real-time dashboards which solve quality issues, understand volumes, distinguish commonly asked questions and tasks, and handle scheduling for perspective providers.
With the right individual or team assessing call center data, there is the opportunity to optimize meetings more quickly. For future placements of clinics and staff, analytics bring information on populations and their needs.
Boicey outlined the first rule for organizations is to be practical when developing a customizable tool through their digital front door. Additionally, he warned against making the process a monumental effort. Instead, he encouraged a minimalist approach: putting whatever is necessary as a foundation to be built off of later.
According to Boicey, adopting product methodology or infrastructure can be a great way to find a quality product from someone who understands the end goal. He also encouraged project leaders to spend a considerable amount of time in the planning phase. Boicey suggested considering factors like an on-premise environment and a multi-cloud approach.
It is important not to be narrow-focused, Boicey explained, and to spend time understanding all the components involved. Development can also be aided greatly by having a proper architect on board. It can be from a consulting perspective initially, but Boicey advised finding someone to help hire the right people.
"In healthcare, we always get ourselves into trouble where we think we know we're the best at hiring. We find out that we've hired a team that's not quite what we expected, and then we've lost six months," he said.
When development projects do not align with an organization's mission, vision, values, goals, and c-suite, problems will occur. In these situations, projects conjure up the next "blockbuster idea,” but often lack the proper stakeholders, according to Boicey.
"It's really important that we bring everybody on. That's the first thing that sometimes gets us in trouble," he said.
Health systems will also want to be intentional about bringing the right team with the right mindset, Boicey encouraged. He advised teams to question if they have the right resources, as this is a common pitfall he has observed. Boicey recommended an interactive approach, like agile, allowing teams to build and pivot. This approach would allow teams to adapt later on in their process.
"Although we did the best planning, we did the best architecture, we've done the best reach out to the stakeholders, and we've done the best mock-ups, things change as we're going along," he said.
All in all, it comes down to keeping the end in mind when developing, especially as applications require updates and changes. Project managers should also consider security early on in the planning, Boicey recommended, as to avoid low-code or no-code environments where applications are vulnerable.
Proposed HIPAA rules would call for patient information sharing return times to decrease from 30 to 15 business days. Boicey believed not only could this pass, but also mentioned that systems could not afford to wait for EMR vendors to set the stage for this rule. However, Boicey conceded that health systems rely heavily on EMR partners in this process. However, he explained that systems can work now to prepare themselves for aspects from a technology perspective.
Under this new rule, systems would be accountable for the responsible and ethical transmission of data. This would ensure that transmitted data ends up where it needs to be: in a secure environment.
Health systems would also be relying on EMR partners to share patient data through APIs to personal health applications. This could present problems, as applications can write clauses into terms and conditions to collect and sell patient data. In order to protect patient data, health system leaders must do their part to inform their patients how their data will be used.
According to Boicey, patients should have the right to opt into these ventures or not, having the ownership of their data. It comes down to health systems communicating with patients to ensure they have complete control.