By Sara M. Foster, RN, MPH, Director of Content Services, Greystone.Net
During the virtual Contact Experience Conference (CEC), held in March 2021, several of the “rock stars” from the 2020 CEC joined a panel discussion on the topic of “Where Are We Headed in 2021 and Beyond?”
The panelists were:
One theme discussed at length by the panelists was how the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of the healthcare call center.
When the COVID-19 lockdowns began in March 2020, call centers became a crucial connection for hospitals, health systems and physician offices. Yet, most call centers were not set up for remote working and many also were not prepared for the huge increase in call/contact volume that occurred as patients tried to learn more about Covid and Covid testing and to find care options.
Getting call center staff set up to work from home involved many challenges:
- Providing adequate equipment – computers, phone setups, network connectivity
- Ensuring an adequate workspace in the home environment
- Providing frequent updates on Covid guidelines and information that changed rapidly during the initial months of the pandemic
- Initiating new virtual visit platforms or ramping up existing platforms to accommodate more volume
- Providing support and motivation to overwhelmed staff who were not only dealing with an increased workload and its attendant stress, but many were also having to manage at-home virtual schooling for their children while also trying to work their shifts
- Getting adequate staff to manage the increased workload.
Despite these challenges, call centers have been mostly successful in serving the needs of patients during the pandemic. As the pandemic progressed, call centers adapted and adjusted and senior leadership became aware of just how crucial the call center function is to their organizations. An article in the January 2021 issue of Contact Center Pipeline reported that 90% of respondents to a survey that asked if the strategic value of the contact center had increased since the pandemic said yes.
In the end, the panelists agreed that 2020 taught us:
- We don’t have to work in the hospital setting itself.
- We can move fast if we need to.
- Necessity is truly the mother of invention.
As Kathleen Peterson, one of the panelists, said, “Call centers are coming out of the pandemic with an extremely high level of visibility. But the window won’t be open for long. We must strike while the iron is hot, and it is hot now. We are in a position of influence and we should embrace it.”