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
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.
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,”
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.
Stay up-to-date with our full range of HME software coverage online at hmebusiness.com.
This article originally appeared in the June 2012 issue of HME Business.