Posted By Mercury Healthcare (formerly Healthgrades) on 06/30/2021

Healthcare Contact Centers Have an Engagement Problem. Here’s Why.

Healthcare Contact Centers Have an Engagement Problem. Here’s Why.

When you reserve a room at an average three-star hotel for a routine business trip, an abundance of hospitality professionals are ready to answer any question about the hotel or the surrounding area with a smile. This personal touch is deliberate, designed to make you feel welcome in their hands and safe in the area.

However, when you call into many health systems’ contact centers, you’d be lucky to receive anything close to that three-star treatment. This is a huge missed opportunity for health systems: When a patient receives a life changing diagnosis, speaking to an agent with a friendly, caring demeanor goes a long way. So, why do healthcare contact centers struggle to provide a positive, engaging experience?

In short, health systems don’t have a cultural or technological framework in place to empower agents to drive patient satisfaction and engagement. Building this framework requires health systems to reimagine the way they think of patient engagement, and reassess how the contact center fits into the wider organization. Let’s take a closer look at why these problems exist, and how to solve them.


Get started personalizing engagement across the consumer healthcare journey with complimentary access to new research from Gartner.

Learn more

Lack of organizational alignment

Consider this: When was the last time you had patient access, marketing, clinical, and contact center managers in the same meeting to discuss your overarching contact center strategy? If you can’t quite remember, your approach to patient engagement may need refining. 

Despite the contact center (or contact centers, in many cases) being a shared entry point to the health system, clinical, patient access, and even marketing leaders often don’t interact with each other and may not even know who supervises it. They may have little understanding of day-to-day contact center operations and the critical role agents play in patient acquisition and retention. Complicating matters, the contact center supervisor often answers to the chief information officer, who has yet another perspective.

This disconnected leadership structure has broad impacts. For instance, service line campaigns may include both inbound and outbound calls, yet agents often have scant information or training about the campaigns they support, and marketers often have little visibility into how the call center is contributing to lead-to-patient conversions and revenue. Call scripts may not work in real-world conversations, leaving agents to improvise. Poor collaboration impedes campaign optimization, undervalues agent contribution, and may even lower caller conversions.

Siloed culture

Lack of alignment is typical of a siloed culture, in which departments either don’t want to or can’t readily share data. Unlocking data throughout the health system may require a larger cultural and technological shift, but teams can break down artificial siloes on their own, once they recognize the benefit of doing so. For example, marketing, patient access, and clinical teams should all be tapping into contact center data regularly to understand:

  • Who is responding to which marketing campaigns? How do inbound call conversions compare to other channel conversions?

  • How many referrals does the contact center make each month, and to whom? How many appointments are scheduled?

  • What type of contact center interactions consistently accelerate service decisions?

Some of these insights mean more to one stakeholder than the other, but all need to work closely with the contact center to understand its central role in patient engagement. A cultural and philosophical shift may be needed to ensure that these stakeholders understand why regularly interacting with each other, not just in times of crisis, is so important. 

The contact center is its own island

Call center managers have often enjoyed decades-long careers with the same health system. During their tenure, they’ve been incented to focus solely on efficiency. Average hold time, abandonment rate, and average call handle time address caller satisfaction to a degree, but they are critical metrics for supervisors to adequately forecast staffing needs. No wonder these operational metrics reinforce the contact center reputation as its own island. 

Managers who are steeped in traditional call center operations may not embrace the transition to metrics tied to health system growth. This is another cultural and philosophical shift that medical call center leadership needs to overcome. Metrics like referrals and appointments scheduled, as well as more complex calculations around speed to conversion due to agent interactions, set a higher bar. They also promise greater satisfaction for agents, who will see how their interactions directly contribute to the overall health system.

Seeing the results from this cultural shift could take months or even years, depending on the starting point. However, once your isolated contact center has transitioned to a fully integrated patient engagement center, the new metrics will speak for themselves.

Reactive, transactional service

Healthcare contact centers have a reputation for being reactive because they do not have easy access to accurate, reliable sources of patient insights. Typically, health systems have three, four, five or more conflicting perspectives of the patient, depending on whether the information is captured by marketing, revenue cycle, various physician offices, or the inpatient electronic health record. Providers often look to the EHR as the sole source of truth, but it only views the patient from a clinical perspective. It does not tell the story of how they got to where they are today, what steps they took, and what they are going through in the patient journey.

Contact center agents often have access to only fragments of this information that they must pull up from various sources during a call.  Worse, typically, they must ask why a consumer called them and react to the caller’s concerns in the moment.Agents need visibility into what a caller needs before they pick up the phone. A CRM-enabled engagement center puts robust profiles of consumers and patients at agents’ fingertips, so they can anticipate callers’ needs. Thus equipped, they can curate their conversations to ensure patients feel valued and understood by the health system. 

Transforming from a reactive to proactive approach will help show callers that your health system knows them and doesn’t perceive them as another number in the queue. This can go a long way toward acquiring new patients and reinforcing patient loyalty.

Final thoughts

Most shortcomings with patient engagement involving the contact center come from it operating in a silo, without connection to the rest of the organization. This contributes to a lack of organizational alignment,, poor communication among stakeholders, and a reactive approach to service. Worst of all, contact center leadership is often left to solve all of these problems on their own, yet they are only evaluated based on operational efficiency.

So, how do you start addressing your contact center’s engagement problems? It’ll take both a shift in culture and technology. The contact center needs to be recognized as a value-driving arm of your health system. Often it is a consumer’s first impression of your health system, especially when someone is ready to make a care decision. Your agents aren’t a necessary expense—they are critical assets to meeting your patient acquisition, engagement, and retention goals.

Changing your culture isn’t easy, but it’s necessary to win the business of patients in an increasingly competitive environment. By equipping your contact center with the right technology to provide three- or even four-star personalized, proactive service, all stakeholders will benefit.

Gary Druckenmiller
Senior Vice President, Strategy & Innovation

The original version of this page was published at: