Who Staffs Your Healthcare Call Center?

Setting appropriate staffing levels in a call center is a critical task, an absolutely essential one. If you overstaff then payroll costs will explode your budget, and if you understaff then service levels plummet. Finding the right balance is tricky and even the most experienced schedulers can make mistakes, sometimes-drastic ones. Crafting the optimum call center schedule requires part skill and part art; it’s facts balanced with instinct. However, call center staffing presents an even bigger challenge for healthcare call centers, where agents can have drastically different levels of skill and training. We see this most pronounced at call centers that staff a mixture of nurses and non-nurses to handle the needs of callers and patients. When the balance between nursing and non-nursing call center staff is out of whack, one of two things can happen. Both are bad, but one is detrimental. In the first scenario one group sits by idly while the other group cranks through calls as quickly as they can. This misbalance results in both wasted payroll and poor service levels. But this isn’t the worst outcome. An even more damaging scenario occurs when well-meaning agents from the overstaffed group tries to help the understaffed group. In one situation we end up with nurses taking messages, setting appointments, and giving out routine information. While they are certainly capable of doing these things, they will not be as proficient or as effective. The opposite situation occurs when non-medically trained staff attempts to help the nurses with their calls. No matter how well intended or how careful they may be, the likelihood of them inadvertently dispensing medical information, no matter how slight, is quite high. Even agreeing with a patient that perhaps a trip to the ER is wise or offering that “if it were me, I would (or wouldn’t) be worried” implies a level of medical expertise that the non-medically trained agent doesn’t possess. This puts the agent, the call center, and the caller all at risk. For the agent and the call center there is a legal liability and a moral responsibility. For the patient, their health or perhaps even their life is in jeopardy. The first solution is an immutable policy in which non-nursing personnel cannot, under any circumstance, handle any aspect of a call intended for a nurse. The second solution is to ensure proper staffing levels at all times so that the temptation, no matter how admirable, is never a consideration. A third solution, and the safest by far, is to simply outsource healthcare calls to an established healthcare call center that has firmly addressed these issues and can protect you and your patients from harm. 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 – and who provides a call center matchmaking service. Contact Janet at contactus@callcenter-salespro.com, or call 800-901-7706.Peter Lyle DeHaan  is a freelance writer from Southwest Michigan.