Changes to the American political scene are upon us and most certainly will have an impact on the provision of healthcare. Regardless of party affiliation, there are several healthcare reform objectives that need to be remain in the forefront by future government leaders. Examples include enhancing quality of care, interdisciplinary coordination and collaboration and better utilization of available resources.

Focusing on those concepts will contribute to the goal of improved outcomes for both individuals and overall patient populations we serve. The benefits achieved from the implementation of the Triple Aim must continue regardless of who is leading the country. Nurse Triage as a component of an Integrated Medical Call Center is a pivotal intervention and no longer optional.

The world of Medical Call Centers (MCC) has finally gained the recognition and credibility in the healthcare marketplace that many of us have been trying to expound for two decades. Centralized MCCs are rapidly emerging as the backbone of health systems because they are integral in achieving better patient outcomes.

The new Administration has wisely sought healthcare advice from the most innovative physician leaders in America. Toby Cosgrove of Cleveland Clinic and John Noteworthy of the Mayo Clinic were invited to meet with President Trump to share their thoughts on the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and ideas to plot out the best plans for the future.

Concerns were expressed that the current model needs to focus more on patient health and wellness and less on the avalanche of paperwork. This has negatively impacted day to day responsibilities of clinicians accountable for reporting on 100’s of quality indicators. These points of contention are agreed upon by most caregivers. Cleveland Clinic and Mayo Clinic have improved patient access, outcomes, and satisfaction by integrating state of the art integrated call centers with clinical access across their multi-state enterprises.

Hopefully, their example will resonate and motivate other organizations to rapidly integrate outsourced or optimized in-house MCC’s as a proven solution for reaching the goals of the Triple Aim: improving the patient care experience, improving population health and reducing per capita cost of health care.

Improving Patient Experience of Care requires open access channels to care. Access means that patients are able to receive the most appropriate level of care needed, in a time frame best determined by specially trained nurses guided by evidence-based tools. The patient learns to expect reliable advice, taking into account their current health state and is consistently available day or night.

Gaps in care are eliminated and delays are avoided, leading to favorable patient outcomes and higher reimbursements in a fee for value model. When patients’ well-being is enhanced, everyone gains – most especially the patients! Medical Call Centers’ can stake a claim for making that happen.

2017 will have many organizations taking a close look at their operations and making tough choices about what functions are best accomplished internally and which ones can be entrusted to an outside partner. IT is a department that is being outsourced by some of the largest hospital systems in the country. IBM is by far the vendor of choice. Patient Financial Services is another service with options for outsourcing where the benefits to an organization outweigh the costs incurred. Incentives for meeting targets are common. Lastly, there is a surge by strategic decision makers to explore Nurse Triage services being performed by an outside call center partner. The common denominator in all three areas where outsourcing is increasing is the fact that there is a reliance on human capital and all of the contingency costs that goes along with being an employer. High labor costs often consume up to 70% of many call centers operating budgets. Outside partners can assume the responsibilities with greater efficiency, better outcomes and at a lower cost. There is also the possibility that many vendors are willing to assume some of the risks associated with the successful attainment of goals. The choice to retain, outsource or develop a hybrid of both is a multifaceted decision that is reserved for leaders at a higher level than the call center. Organizations have to thoroughly evaluate the options which one best aligns with their mission, vision for the future and strategic plans.

MCC’s are branching out and taking on a variety of responsibilities that are well suited to be conducted remotely and reliant of state of the art technology and a dedicated work force. Once the technological infrastructure is created, the MCC can be enhanced to take on additional functions. The function of appointment scheduling is the most common function of many MCC’s and often happens in tandem with the strategy of centralization. Electronic Medical Records (EMR) products have customized templates embedded with providers’ schedules that are used for office visits, imaging or procedural appointments. Outbound calling campaigns are often conducted in conjunction with scheduling for appointment reminders.

Centralizing all medication refill requests is emerging as a successful addition to many MCC’s. Call center technology such as CRM allows for requests to be tracked, acted upon and measured ensuring that established targets are being met in a timely manner. Without measurement there is possibility for improvement. Patients can expect a standard process for medication needs, and defined time frames responses or resolution. Medication management and compliance is critical for optimal outcomes, so implementing a process that fosters it is a good idea. Patients stratified as high risk garner the most advantages which contribute to maximum reimbursements for medical treatments.

MCC’s have taken on the significant task of not only caring for the acute needs of primary care patients as well as the chronic needs of vulnerable high risk patients as well. Successfully coordinating and transitioning of care is central to every health systems strategy for sustainability today and growth tomorrow. Nurses are the clinicians assigned to figure out how to morph from case management to transitional care coordinators. Regular communication between the patient and the caregiver is vital and is often by telephone, text or email. Training the newly created care/transitional care nurses in the fundamentals of remote patient care is imperative and is based on the standards of care for Telephone Triage Nurses. The practice of triaging the acute symptoms has branched out and will serve as the starting point for nurses involved in coordinating care.

It is up to those of us established in the Medical Call Center industry to continue to proclaim the unlimited value of a MCC to the healthcare industry. In many healthcare organizations more than 10% of employees spend the majority of their day, doing their job on the telephone. The benefits of centralizing and consolidating the work they do are undeniable.

C-suite leaders must accept the fact that Medical Call Centers are no longer considered an expense, but an investment with impactful ROI.

Initially there were call center, then access centers, followed by a contact centers, and in 2017 we are Engagement Centers. The task at hand is to capture the limited attention of decision makers and educate them on the role MCCs play in a fee for value system and the distinct results that are possible. The future may be uncertain but there remains a need for products, services and expertise that bring the call center to the forefront of patient care.