Virtual Call Center Conference: It’s a Wrap!


By Estelle Woodcock

In February, more than 500 patient access leaders joined us for the Fifth Annual Virtual Call Center Conference organized and hosted by the Patient Access Collaborative. Our speakers were selected to showcase their work in an important area of call center management. The presentations were educational and insightful - and we wanted to share the findings with you.

Our first session featured Director Keri Semrau, RN, MSN and Human Resources Manager Kaitlin Luoma, MBA discussing the retention strategies utilized at the University of Iowa’s Patient Access Center. They outlined four key avenues for retention: recognition, compensation & benefits, career development opportunities, and work environment & culture. As discussed by Semrau and Luoma, recognition in practice involves acknowledging employee achievements and celebrating them with awards and ceremonies. Compensation and benefits are incentivized by performance and often granted with the intention of supporting further education for employees. Career development opportunities strengthen the quality of the practice while supporting the personal progress of employees. Lastly, work environment and culture can be maintained and reinforced via employee feedback through committees, surveys, and interviews.

Senior Director of Business Operations, Stacy Silwany, MBA of the University of Utah Health’s Care Navigation addressed the benefits of leveraging benchmarking data to manage the contact center. Indeed, she argued the necessity of benchmarking! She began by explaining how benchmarking is a helpful tool for highlighting strengths, identifying areas of improvement, and making evidence-based decisions. Having a dedicated analyst can streamline the benchmarking of the overwhelming amount of data involved. Aligning goals across departments and operational strategies can also reveal meaningful and actionable insights from benchmarking data. Benchmarking can be approached from several perspectives in a format Silwany presents as tri-focus benchmarking, which considers stakeholders external (consultants, vendors, etc.), internal (within practice, across departments), and intra-performance (within a single department). Silwany lastly presented six use cases that show the benefits of benchmarking in practice including topics such as optimizing labor efficiency, staff planning/hiring, and managing handle time.

In the next segment, Elizabeth Woodcock, DrPH, MBA, FACMPE, CPC, PAC’s Executive Director, discussed call center benchmarks. When the Patient Access Collaborative started, one of the key objectives was to identify strategies for making evidence-based decisions. Years later, it is just as relevant. Using PAC benchmarks, it is clear that the Covid-19 pandemic significantly impacted call center performance, but the numbers have returned to pre-Covid levels as reflected in the 2023 data. Moreover, the PAC’s data set showed improvements to call center performance and productivity despite a high agent turnover rate emanating from the “Great Resignation.” The 2023 results demonstrate the most significant improvement seen over the last five years. Woodcock also presented data that show no significant correlation between larger call centers and performance, further emphasizing the importance of quality over quantity.

Jackie Kelly, AVP of Patient Access Services and Grady Herbert, AVP of Operations highlighted the opportunities and challenges of their recent construction of a Spanish-language access center at Northwell Health. Research gleaned from their language interpretation service found that 95% of the calls received were from Spanish-speaking individuals. The project aims to navigate these patients to agents who are fluent in Spanish and knowledgeable about practice rules. As there is a high volume of calls in Spanish, the access center can be overwhelmed and training is costly and takes agents away from the phone. With the launch of the new access center, Kelly and Herbert have seen a reduction in average call handle times as well as the cost of interpretation services. Importantly, stakeholder surveys demonstrate improved patient and agent experience, proving that the project was worthwhile despite initial challenges.

Todd Frady, MS, MSSI, SHRM-SCP, HCS, Director, Patient Access Talent Management, Quality, and Training shared the implementation of the AWARE (Awareness and Accountability of Registration Errors) system at Johns Hopkins Patient Access Services. AWARE strives to increase efficiency, transparency, training/education, and standardization. AWARE works by flagging bypassed warnings from the electronic health record system that indicate information about the patient was not recorded during the registration process. From the aggregated data, individual employees receive a scorecard each month. Alongside the scorecard, AWARE provides a uniquely tailored training session to each employee. Managers have access to a dashboard that shows each employee’s scorecard and also unveils valuable performance trends for their respective department. To refine the system, appeals can be filed to managers and the system is adjusted accordingly. To ensure data security and reduce the excess of employees in AWARE, Johns Hopkins Patient Access Services is implementing a quota on the number of warnings an employee receives to qualify for ongoing participation in the system.

Vice President of Clinical Access Management and Contact Center at Geisinger, Patrick Kokoruda, MHA, CCSL, concluded the conference, presenting strategies for elevating call center interactions. Some examples given include scheduling at the point of contact to decant call volumes, implementing automated digital reminders, and utilizing conversational AI. Another triumph of the process at Geisinger’s call center was the unification of entrance points for four (previously) different service lines. This fusion of primary care allowed for patients to be offered the true first available appointment and reduced wait time for appointments by 50%. Lastly, as a byproduct of the improvements within the call center, patient outreach strategies showed great success in seeing patients for crucial screenings and annual visits - a pertinent reminder of the human impact behind business optimization in a health system.

The Patient Access Collaborative is honored to showcase these remarkable leaders - and we thank them for their valuable contributions to our field. 

About the author: Estelle Woodcock is passionate about ensuring all patients have access to great care. Currently a student, she serves as a teacher’s aide and curriculum developer for the Refugee Migrant Children Centre of Australia.

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