Leveraging the cloud and AI to transform the patient experience

Whether they are about mental health, COVID, general health concerns or any number of other issues, healthcare provider organizations are constantly managing droves of calls from patients.

Vendors of cloud technologies are aiming to tackle the issue of high call volumes while at the same time helping healthcare call centers reimagine the patient and employee experience.

We talked to Dan Burkland, president of Five9, a cloud-based contact center vendor, to discuss why he believes healthcare provider organizations should embrace cloud technologies versus other technologies to tackle the issue of high call volumes, how cloud contact centers are enabling employees to work remotely, how artificial intelligence is helping healthcare organizations route calls and contribute to the stabilization of call volumes, and how increased visibility of real-time data for call agents can lead to improved patient experience.

Q. Why do you believe healthcare provider organizations should embrace cloud technologies versus other technologies to tackle the issue of high call volumes and reimagine the patient and employee experience in this area?

A Frost & Sullivan recently surveyed 129 healthcare decision makers to discover how contact centers changed as a result of the pandemic. Overall, 62% of healthcare organizations reported an increase in patient interactions, and 71% moved to cloud contact centers, with 24% planning to do so within the next two years.

On premises systems are slow, cumbersome, difficult to integrate with other systems, and cannot keep pace with the ease, flow and connectivity of cloud applications. Healthcare organizations that had their systems in the cloud during the pandemic were able to easily pivot and continue to deliver services with minimal disruption.

While moving to the cloud is a big decision, it’s the only way to stay relevant and competitive in today’s healthcare market. Cloud-based solutions have allowed healthcare contact centers to quickly shift their agents to remote work, maintain and scale their operations, and improve agent performance.

The cloud supports accessibility, ease of integration with EHRs and other back-office systems, digital channels, and AI-assisted features that can reduce call volumes.

For example, the Frost report found that organizations that invested in AI-powered intelligent virtual agents (IVAs) to automate routine patient interactions during the pandemic saw heavy adoption rates by patients and members.

This finding is in line with patients’ increasing preference for self-service channels that allow them to access and manage their care when it’s most convenient for them. Overall, 76% of healthcare organizations saw an increase in virtual agent interactions, and that would not have been possible without cloud technology.

Q. How are cloud contact centers enabling employees to work remotely, managing a rapid increase in incoming calls from the public no matter their location?

A Healthcare showed great agility when contact center workers had to move to remote working environments. According to the Frost report, more than 60% of agents moved to remote and were able to maintain performance thanks to the move to having a cloud-based contact center.

Shuttering clinics and moving to telehealth proved that investments in cloud applications that are integrated with other systems, accessible via an internet connection and easy to use were wise investments. Providers and patients continued to communicate online and all but the most acute care was delivered to patients in the comfort and safety of their homes.

Healthcare organizations also were successful in managing the rapid increase in calls from the public through their investment in digital channels, such as SMS, chat and messaging, and AI-assisted features, such as virtual agents, chatbots and automated responses.

However, next-generation healthcare experiences are not about removing human providers but about empowering them in ways that enable an even higher level of care. Next-generation healthcare is about creating a seamless experience that may begin online via your website, move to your app or patient portal, and involve your contact center staff along the path of scheduling or following up on in-person or telehealth provider experiences.

It’s about creating ease and flow through the system so patients don’t have to repeat themselves; making their information and medical charts available to providers; and ensuring that appointments, test results, billing and payment, insurance, and communications all occur within one agent desktop. It’s about making healthcare easier, more accessible, more convenient and more present.

Q. How is artificial intelligence helping healthcare organizations route calls and contribute to the stabilization of call volumes?

A With the exponential increase in demand for patient engagement, AI and automation play a critical role.

IVAs enable healthcare organizations to quickly scale their staff with a “digital workforce” that can handle simple interactions such as booking an appointment or refilling a prescription 24/7. Patients love this because they can complete these tasks without having to find time in their busy day to call their provider and wait in a call queue.

Healthcare workers love it because IVAs take the repetitive, mundane tasks off their hands and allow them to focus on more complex and sensitive interactions that can benefit from their empathy and other soft skills.

IVAs also can improve call routing accuracy through more intelligent routing to appropriate service lines like pharmacy, cardiology or radiology, which leads to better first-call resolution. They can collect information during an automated interaction and pass it along to the healthcare worker or contact center agent, which can reduce average call handle time and improve the overall patient experience.

Furthermore, IVAs can verify a patient’s identity using their unique voice print thanks to biometrics technology. This frictionless authentication process not only eliminates the time-consuming process of asking a laundry list of security questions, it also can improve security and compliance.

AI-assisted self-service channels allow patients to engage in their own patient access workflows efficiently and receive proactive communication to update them on their journey. Using AI to communicate more proactively with patients helps organizations support increased call volumes as well.

For example, automating outbound calls to remind patients not to drink any water after midnight before a procedure can free up healthcare workers to address incoming queries, and automatic appointment reminders can reduce incoming calls to the contact center from patients who need to cancel or reschedule their appointments.

Q. How can increased visibility of real-time data for call agents lead to improved patient experience?

A Having real-time access to patient information, such as clinical histories, insurance coverage and pharmacy preferences, allows healthcare contact center workers to focus on providing empathetic, personalized and proactive care. With the right cloud-based solutions, organizations can integrate health data from disparate sources into a streamlined agent desktop and make insights more actionable.

For example, when an agent can see that the patient calling to update their insurance information is also due for an upcoming preventative screening, the agent can ask the patient if they want to schedule the appointment and take care of it on the spot.

We also see many organizations deploying agent-facing assistance tools that use AI and machine learning to analyze customer conversations in real time and guide agents on the next best steps to resolve the caller’s issue.

These agent-assist solutions also can help contact center workers remain compliant, provide coaching on complex interactions, surface helpful resources based on the content of the conversation, and share links to relevant websites or knowledge bases with the patient via SMS.

Healthcare organizations typically employ higher-skilled contact center personnel, such as nurses, and the more streamlined you can make every interaction, the more efficient and cost-effective your contact center becomes.

As healthcare interacts with insurance, pharmacies and other health systems, having an integrated contact center that can share information while staying HIPAA-compliant and secure is central to next generation healthcare experiences.

Twitter: @SiwickiHealthIT
Email the writer: bsiwicki@himss.org
Healthcare IT News is a HIMSS Media publication.

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