Do You Have a $30 per Hour Nurse Doing $12 per Hour Phone Work?

Many healthcare call centers staff a mixture of registered nurses and telephone agents—or at least they should. The nurses do what they’re trained for: answer medical questions and address health situations, while the agents do what they’re trained for: answer calls, take messages, give out information, screen calls, dispatch urgent information, and transfer callers. While some call centers hire only nurses and have them do both jobs, this doesn’t make sense from a financial standpoint, even though it is arguably a tad more efficient. Just as a hospital wouldn’t expect a nurse to empty the trash, a call center shouldn’t expect a nurse to spend her time handling non-healthcare related activities. For this reason a hospital hires people to keep the wastebaskets empty, along with aides to facilitate nursing activity, so too the healthcare call center hires agents to handle routine non-medical calls in order to free up nurses for work needing their medical expertise. In both situations the nurses are left to do what they were trained for and what they do best: provide healthcare to patients. The agents do the rest. While it could theoretically be more efficient to staff only nurses and train them to do the work of agents in addition to their own, any small time-savings or efficiency bump is more than offset by the pay differential. Though it varies by market, nurses are paid two to three times, and even more, than what agents commonly earn. Although it makes sense to cross-train nurses so they can answer, screen, and transfer calls, in addition to taking messages, giving information, and dispatching urgent calls, the need to actually do so should be rare. Sometimes nurses do what they need to do for the overall sake of the organization and its patients, but normally they need to be free to do what they do best. The other side of this is training agents to not give medical advice or diagnoses. While they, too, have a desire to do what they can to help the organization and its patients, everyone is best served when agents—the non-licensed staff—keep their healthcare knowledge and opinions to themselves. Another solution to this staffing issue, one embraced by many healthcare providers, is to simply outsource some or all of their call center work. One common way to pursue partial outsourcing is to outsource all of the non-nursing work or vice-versa. Operating a call center and appropriately scheduling staff to be at work when the calls come in is hard. The magnitude of the challenge doubles when you mix nurses with agents, yet budget issues require this. Perhaps the best solution to staffing, scheduling, and running a call center is to outsource it to call centers that specialize in it. This will free your organization up to do what you do best: see and treat patients. Janet Livingston is the president of Call Center Sales Pro, a premier sales and marketing service provider for the call center and telephone answering service industry. Contact Janet at, or call 800-901-7706. Peter Lyle DeHaan is a freelance writer from Southwest Michigan.