Creating a Successful Remote Team by Reimagining Training: USF Tampa General Physicians


Remote WorkDeveloping a successful remote team where the goals remain concentrated on improving patient access involves implementing training initiatives that continuously strive to create a cohesive and professional relationship between the agent and the patient. Amber Townsend, Director of Call Center Operations, USF Tampa General Physicians, discussed with the Patient Access Collaborative the training efforts she and her colleagues developed to implement action steps to empower a team focused on “what they can do versus what they can’t do.”

Through the “Act Like It” training initiatives at USF Tampa General Physicians, the call center agents are encouraged to respond to patients as if they were seated beside the patient’s care team. Agents reference an “Act Like It:  Say This–Not That” tip sheet. Suggestions for handling calls include speaking with confidence and avoiding creating separation or division. For example, a patient calls to speak with Dr. Smith’s nurse, and the agent relays, “I don’t know who Dr. Smith’s nurse is, but I can send a message to the clinic and have them call you back.” Instead, an agent should suggest, “I would be happy to provide further assistance, may I place you on a brief hold to see if the nurse is available?” Townsend stated that by “rephrasing the message, the agent creates ownership, which helps the patient feel safe and assures them that their healthcare needs will be met.”

Preexisting training materials are continuously enhanced to encourage learning with clinical partners, with the aim of creating a stronger delivery based on the call center’s inclusion. Building a call center where “agents appear as one team, one force, and not a separate vendor from the clinic, is crucial to calming patients' concerns about their medical needs.” Townsend emphasized.

The newly developed training program emphasizes the importance of the role of the agent, seen as part of the clinical staff and operations, as well as the importance of escalating call response times and improving agents’ responses to patients. Ensuring the agents relay professional and reassuring feedback to each patient is vital for call center success. Further, feedback and measuring the successes and missed opportunities for success are the cornerstones of employee development and, in turn, patient satisfaction. Townsend stated, “action steps create traction.”

Townsend uses a quality scorecard to track progress and focuses on two key questions to measure performance validation and encourage traction. These include: (a.) “did the agent provide accurate and relevant information and (b.) did the agent use professional language?”  Here, the feedback helps agents understand how to construct a more cohesive patient-caller relationship.  

Townsend believes the key to strengthening the agent’s role in the patient access call center is to “focus on the patient’s needs.” This encompasses helping agents provide relevant information to patients and reassuring the patient that a team will address their concerns. Patients have needs they want to be addressed promptly, and agents must be resilient and capable to “respond and relate as though they are in a clinic setting prepared to ensure proper delivery of a message in a timely and seamless fashion.”

Working remotely can present barriers to learning, team building, and connection. Townsend discussed training enrichment at USF, where opportunities to counter these obstacles include alternating in-person work rotations and learning sessions to strengthen connections.