Hospitals Need Nurses on the Floor, Not Answering the Phone: Why Hospitals Outsource CRM | Article

34344149Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, California has a substantial marketing campaign to increase its revenues which includes a $1 million budget for a radio campaign. The radio spots run on major radio stations in the LA market from September to May. At any given time of day during that period, there will be three radio commercials airing.

The call to action in every radio spot is simple: dial a toll-free number for information. “We outsourced our call center because we wanted cost-effective round-the-clock coverage. If we don’t answer incoming calls immediately, we are losing out on potential new business,” says Michael O’Malley, Director of Marketing for Cedars-Sinai.

Cedars-Sinai previously had staffed its own in-house call center with registered nurses. “We realized that was not a good use of our resources,” he says, given America’s growing shortage of nurses. In addition, the call center answered the phone from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. But the radio ads ran throughout the day, so many respondents called when there was no one to answer the phone.

In addition, the nurses were knowledgeable respondents but our in-house data reporting systems were not up to par. “We questioned the in-house system’s data reliability and accuracy. That made it difficult to make management decisions,” adds O’Malley.

But Cedars-Sinai wanted a supplier who could provide its callers with a polished interaction. “This is the first entry point into the Cedars-Sinai Health System. We are a first-class healthcare system in Southern California and we have to deliver that impression over the phone at the first contact with prospective patients,” says O’Malley.

“Cedars-Sinai is known internationally,” says Rob Tazioli, Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer for Connextions Health, the hospital’s customer relationship manager (CRM) provider. “They take their brand very seriously. For that reason, they wanted the CRM experience to mirror the quality of the medical care,” he adds. Connextions’s mission is to further Cedars-Sinai’s corporate strategy: to establish a long-term relationship with each patient.

A Supplier Specializing in Healthcare CRM

Cedars-Sinai outsourced the handling of this toll-free number to Connextions Health, a call center specializing in healthcare, in a three-year agreement. The supplier is based in a 335,000-square-foot campus in Orlando, Florida. Other healthcare clients include Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Florida, the Florida Hospital Health System, and United Healthcare, which insures 27 million lives.

Connextions started as a CRM solution for Fortune 500 companies. Household names like Levi, Olympus, and Mercedes are among its clients. Three years ago it decided to add a healthcare specialty. “Healthcare is very technical. You can’t run a call center successfully without the clinical acumen. Your operators have to understand how hospitals deliver healthcare,” says Tazioli.

The call center has 1,200 seats. About 250 of those work for the healthcare division; half of these are registered nurses or licensed practical nurses.

Connextions hired a doctor with 30 years of experience to oversee the operational delivery of its healthcare services. The supplier then spent 15 months building out a Siebel system with embedded clinical guidelines and protocols to improve the caller interaction. “This gives us the ability to deliver the same outcome in a consistent fashion every day,” adds Tazioli.

Connextions has no offshore component. “We believe you need a dedicated team who know your client’s culture to be able to develop close personal relationships with the callers,” says Tazioli. He says healthcare “is locally driven.” He says the Blues of Florida selected Connextions because “we understand the healthcare landscape of this state.” In addition, Connextions found it difficult to replicate its medical expertise overseas.

“We want our callers to view us as an extension of the doctor’s office,” says Tazioli. “We believe the value we bring to the hospital far exceeds the additional expense of keeping our call center in the United States.”

O’Malley prefers working with an American call center because of the ease of traveling to and working with its facility. “I got the opportunity to know the actual operators who answer our phones. I found that one-on-one contact made a big difference,” says O’Malley.

What Connextions Does for the Hospital

The first service level agreement (SLA) required Connextions to answer the call within 30 seconds and resolve the caller’s demand with that call. On average Connextions answers about 5,500 calls a month.

The first task is to determine what the caller wants. Some patients are calling to make an appointment with a doctor in the Cedars-Sinai network. They have a link to 900 physician offices in the Cedars-Sinai Health System and make appointments for more than 20 different areas of the hospital.

If the caller just wants information about a particular procedure or has a question about symptoms, Connextions operators facilitate referrals to the proper physicians within the Cedars-Sinai network.

If a caller needs more information, Cedars-Sinai made it clear it wants its experts answering the questions. So Connextions operators provide what’s called a “warm transfer”–they hand over the caller to a Cedars-Sinai staff member who can provide more in-depth knowledge, staying on the line until the Cedars-Sinai expert answers.

To help Cedars-Sinai with its marketing decisions, Connextions aggregates information from the calls. For example, it monitors why callers chose Cedars-Sinai for their healthcare needs.

In addition, Connextions will also send out educational material to the callers. It will send out welcome kits to new patients. If a caller has a question about asthma, Connextions will mail an information packet explaining how to use a peak flow meter. It also sends out office visit planners to the participating physicians.

“We make sure what’s supposed to happen does happen in our confusing healthcare system,” explains Tazioli.

The Importance of Working Together

O’Malley says the hospital selected Connextions for its medical expertise, which helped guide Cedars-Sinai through the CRM process. For example, the two partners built a special system to track the calls. “They listened to us,” says O’Malley.

Cedars-Sinai also prized the flexibility of Connextions’s solution. “They didn’t offer us a one-size-fits-all solution,” he reports. He says Cedars-Sinai has a complicated internal structure and unique reporting requirements that didn’t fit into other suppliers’ standard solution.

O’Malley proudly reports he was at Connextions when the first call came in.

Flexibility is important for healthcare outsourcing, according to Steve Tobin, an Analyst for healthcare and life sciences IT for Frost & Sulllivan. Tobin says five years ago hospitals just worried about cutting costs. “Today we know the supplier can do the job at a 20 percent discount. Now hospitals have to make sure they get flexibility” to solve their current unique problems and any challenges that may arise in the future.

Why Hospitals Outsource CRM

Tazioli says hospitals generally don’t want to invest in the telephony and IT infrastructure necessary for a comprehensive CRM solution. “They want to stick to their knitting. They prefer to put their money on investments centered on patient care,” he says. The Connextions executive says he told the Cedars-Sinai executives, “You outsourced this to us so we can worry about the day-to-day details of delivery.”

He says outsourcing CRM also lowers administrative costs for hospitals because suppliers can do them cheaper. “We blend expertise on healthcare with operational acumen. That translates into lower costs and higher return on investment,” concludes Tazioli.

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