Answering the call: Call centers prove vital in helping organization ramp down, then back up

June 30, 2020  //  FOUND IN: Our Employees,

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They may be some of the most behind-the-scenes members of the Michigan Medicine team. Indeed, many patients or families never even see their faces. But without them, appointments would never be made, patients would never be seen, procedures would never take place and health care would never be advanced.

They are the organization’s call centers, which can be best understood as the “front door” to Michigan Medicine.

“Everyone who calls for an appointment, procedure or has a question to ask goes through a call center,” said Jason Holmes, call center manager for surgical services. “Our staff listens to their concerns and figures out the best, most efficient way to help them. And we always do so with respect, patience and empathy because we know that the patient experience begins the moment they dial their phone.”

A challenging task

So what exactly is the role of the hundreds of call center representatives who work across the organization? They are the first to help the patients or family members on the other end of the line.

In urology, for example, “the first determination is to always find out if patients should see a general urologist or a sub-specialist,” Holmes said. “Once we figure out who they must see, we will do our best to schedule appointments in the right place and at the right time that is most convenient for patients.”

The team also assists with canceling appointments and works closely with radiology to schedule MRIs, CT scans or other important tests.

Finally, there are times when staff members receive calls from individuals going through health distress. They listen for specific trigger words to determine if the patient should be connected to a nurse right away for triage, should schedule an urgent appointment, or a note should be sent for a nurse to follow up with them over the phone to discuss their concerns.

“Our team members may not have medical degrees or backgrounds, but we have immense experience and always focus on doing right by our patients,” Holmes said.

Rapid de-escalation

In mid-March, when Michigan Medicine began postponing all non-essential patient care in order to ensure there was enough space for a surge of COVID-19 patients, call centers immediately went to work.

“We worked seven days a week with many late nights calling all patients to let them know their appointments would have to be rescheduled or their treatments delayed,” Holmes said.

For some who had more acute needs, the representatives worked to fit their appointments into limited physician schedules or helped to facilitate video visits.

Throughout the weeks-long process, staff members were at home, carrying out their work in unfamiliar environments with different equipment than they were used to.

“It was a challenging time, but all of our team members rose to the occasion and helped ramp things down quickly,” Holmes said.

Ramping up

Now, the work of call centers is precisely the opposite. As Michigan Medicine ramps up services, the teams are rescheduling appointments with thousands of patients.

It’s a routine that is possibly even more difficult than what they performed a few months ago.

“Not all of our ambulatory care clinics are open now, nor will they all be opening at the same time,” Holmes said.

So staff members must determine which locations are open and with which physicians or specialists a patient should be seen.

But the work doesn’t stop there. Michigan Medicine is in the process of consolidating many service lines into single, larger call centers. And in urology, where Holmes works, his team is integrating partner West Shore Urology in Muskegon, Michigan, into their work.

On top of all that, the rapid shift to more virtual care options is falling on the shoulders of many call center representatives.

“We have evolved rapidly away from the way our jobs worked even three months ago,” Holmes said. “We’re looking at virtual care as a first option, as opposed to bringing patients to our hospitals or clinics.”

Team members are taking on that task with their eyes wide open.

As Holmes said: “At a difficult time for our organization, but we know that we’re helping to keep things moving in the best way possible. And that’s a good feeling that we should all feel proud of.”