Software Automation

Keeping in Constant Contact

Patient contact lies at the heart of running an HME business. Providers must remind patients about resupplies, set up deliveries, collect co-pays, and engage in a plethora of dialogs with their clients.

That said, providers face considerable challenge in this regard. The primary hurdle is that customer contact is inefficient. They have to reach out by individual phone calls, messages and postal mail and each of those individual points of contact gobbles up time, and that means money. In an era where providers are seeking every possible efficiency in order to drive cost out of their business and reinforce their margins, all that manual patient contact is sitting square in their cost-cutting sites.

So, automation is an attractive option for overhauling providers’ patient communications. They already have tools such as interactive voice response, email and software systems to orchestrate the process. Providers can leverage their software to organize their client contact efforts and permanently drive a considerable level of cost out of their business, while perhaps increasing their revenue through co-pays and resupply orders, so the notion of automation seems like a no-brainer, but many hesitate. Why? Because providers pride themselves on delivering the personal touch that reinforces their relationship as a care provider.

However, today’s HME software offerings can help them sustain that level of personal touch while being automated, and can still let them manually communicate with the patients that truly demand that real-time, one-on-one interaction. And even then, HME software systems can help organize the manual contacts to help save time and money. The bottom line is that providers should not fear automating their patient contact efforts and should work to implement it. When automating their customer contact efforts, providers should review various elements of their process and software systems to ensure an optimal blend of efficiency and that personal touch.

Of course, much of customer contact automation is focused on the phone as an initial point of contact, because it is ubiquitous, and because with mobile phones, nearly everyone has a phone on their person. It is an immediate way to do business. Bearing that in mind, automating patient contact requires a certain level of finesse.

Clear, Concise Communication

When creating the call scripts and interactive voice response “trees” that will be used to reach out to patients, it is critical that providers take some time to carefully plan exactly what is said, how it is said, and how the various prompts are organized. This can be a delicate process, but it is worth some solid pre-planning to ensure the best results in terms of collecting co-pays or getting resupply orders.

“That’s where you lose them: when a call isn’t user friendly,” says Brad Heath, operations and compliance manager for Family Medical Supply. “If the call takes a long time to connect, or if the language is confusing, then patients don’t want to do it. They don’t want to have to figure anything out. For us how user friendly is the message, how easy is it, and does it keep them on the phone. ...We’re letting technology be our sales people.”

Also the scripts and prompts should use everyday terms as much as possible and describe options in the simplest and most generic terms to ensure that all patients can understand what is being said and being asked of them. This not only ensures patient satisfaction, but prevents mistakes.

Manage Expectations

A big component of keep patients on the phone, is letting them know from the very beginning exactly how long the process is going to take, according to Heath. “None of us wants to be on an endless phone call with a machine,” he says.

So, once the patient is contacted, a message should say something along the lines of “this process should take approximately five minutes,” and it should give them the option of to opt out of the call, and either handle the call at a later time, or via a difference process, such as via the web. And even then the call should provide a means for the patient to “escape” from the tree and reach out to a live representative (and if that particular portion can’t be automated due to technical limitations, the tree should at least offer a telephone number the patient can directly dial).


Speaking of time, providers must be cognizant of the fact that patients have different times when they want to be contacted. “One of the biggest obstacles is figuring out the best time to contact a patient because lifestyles are different,” Heath explains.

Prior to automating customer contact, HME providers need to survey their patients to determine when is the best time to contact them and if they should be automatically or manually. And, if they don’t have that data, at least look at patient ages and other data that can help them predict when might be some optimal times for reaching that client.

And, in fact, many younger patients actually prefer to be given the option to go back and complete at a call at a later time. Demographically, many young professionals, for instance, might opt to complete a resupply order at 10 p.m., before they go to bed. Not everyone wants to talk to a “live person” these days, so helping to facilitate and automate the patient’s ability to dictate when the call happens is key.

Points to take away:

  • Providers engage in a considerable level of patient contact that is costly and needs to be automated.
  • Many providers worry automation would undermine much of the “personal touch” providers pride themselves on delivering.
  • Software offers a variety of tools to ensure they don’t lose that personal touch as long as they engage in pre-planning prior to implementation.
  • Key elements in that planning involve proper wording, easy telephone script navigation, and conforming to patients’ schedules.

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This article originally appeared in the June 2012 issue of HME Business.


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