Worldwide measures to address COVID-19 spread like wildfire. Shifts sometimes happen overnight. Such was the case in March 2020 when millions of employees were sent home to work. And the same is true now, one year later, as vaccine administration ramps up and distribution programs roll out.
Today’s urgent question facing hospitals and health systems is how to meet burgeoning call volumes as patients reach out, schedule appointments, and ask questions about the COVID vaccine. For one not-for-profit healthcare system in the Midwest, more than 500 sites of care required 80 resources to augment their internal call center teams. And they needed them available, trained, and ready to answer patient calls within days.
Vaccine call center best practices emerge
Through our work with that health system and others with similar needs, DeliverHealth has defined three areas of best practices for COVID vaccination call centers—staff up for increases in patient call volume, cover documentation bases, and balance vaccine supply with demand and preferences to promote a positive patient experience.
In this blog, I share DeliverHealth’s important lessons learned to help COVID vaccine call centers provide optimal consumer experience and prevent patient leakage to other care opportunities.
Augment staff as quickly as possible
Patient access departments and IT help desks are overwhelmed with COVID vaccine scheduling call volumes. Additional staff are needed onsite and remotely. Whether helping patients navigate a scheduling portal or entering vaccine data into the EHR, a health system’s ability to ramp up quickly and efficiently is essential to delivering a positive patient experience during the COVID vaccine scheduling process. Here are top priorities to consider.
- Hire for good customer service, support skills, and coachability, not necessarily IT or clinical expertise.
- Provide rapid and scalable training on HIPAA, your EHR, patient scheduling, vaccine documentation, and administration.
- Quickly establish a hardware procurement plan as enterprise grade devices are in short supply with all the work from home, remote learning, and worldwide logistic challenges.
- Allow new staff or vendor partners to use their own devices and create a BYOD policy for support.
Look for a partner who can quickly provide qualified call agents versus outsourcing to eliminate long decision lifecycles. Outsourcing may be a result, but not the first step.
Establish vaccine documentation processes
Vaccine call center staff should receive consistent guidance on verifying patient demographics, scheduling vaccines, and documenting conversations in the patient access system or EHR. Actual vaccine administration often will be documented in your system and also may be required to be submitted or re-entered into a local Department of Health (DOH) system, including vaccine type, lot number, and inoculation location.
Different organizations are tackling this issue in different ways. Unfortunately, the system is decentralized and governed by underfunded public health agencies. Best practice is to develop a standard process and documentation policy for your vaccine call center, and for your entire organization.
Manage patient outreach
The worst-case scenario is a vaccine call center that proactively reaches out to patients for COVID vaccine scheduling, but doesn’t have enough vaccine to accommodate all interested patients. Patient dissatisfaction and possible patient leakage to other care providers will result. To avoid this scenario, call centers should conduct the right volume of outbound messages based on the existing daily allotment of vaccines.
Key points to consider:
- When using your patient portal for scheduling, post the time and days when new vaccine appointments will be released.
- Offer multiple ways to schedule a vaccine appointment to improve the patient experience. In addition to live agents, include chat, text, and EHR portal.
- Provide a triage process for patients calling with more complicated COVID vaccine questions or clinical emergencies landing with the wrong IVR option.
Time is of the essence
COVID-19 vaccine support is an urgent issue requiring immediate action. While we can’t predict the future, we do know high inbound patient call volumes will remain fluid with the phases of availability and until the majority of Americans are vaccinated. As your organization works diligently to facilitate COVID vaccinations, DeliverHealth is ready to perform uncommonly great things with your team. We have the talent and expertise to ensure an optimal patient experience and a successful COVID-19 vaccination program.