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Healthcare Call Centers: 7 Staffing Solutions To Scale


August 17, 2023

Picture this: a medical call center, buzzing with frantic energy, phones ringing off the walls. 

In the eye of this storm stands Lisa, operations leader, the conductor of this orchestra. And she’s consumed with stress thanks to non-stop turnover, tedious operational procedures, and angry patients and physicians.

Lisa once welcomed this challenge. She firmly believed she could turn this chaos into success. 

But each day brought another employee out the door. The once-familiar faces on her team were replaced by new, unfamiliar ones. The turnover rate was a whirlpool, pulling her team under, year after year. 

Healthcare call centers are caught in an industry-wide vortex. Turnover rates are twice the national average, according to research.

In her desperation, Lisa tried everything. Rules were made stricter. Monitoring became relentless. Meetings with the provider partners, once a rarity, became frequent.  

Long story short, Lisa is a victim of common but false beliefs that undermine her operation. By challenging the beliefs that shaped her decisions, this relentless negative cycle can stop.

All it takes to turn things around is a different approach, a different set of guiding principles. Changing your beliefs, particularly around staffing, is critical to revitalize or optimize your call center. Adequate pay, continuous training, and a respectful work environment can revolutionize morale, productivity, and patient care.

The best practices below have worked wonders for Keona’s clients, so I know they can produce results for you, too.

Leverage psychological techniques to reduce burnout

In healthcare, many common but false beliefs contribute to a harmful work environment. These myths result in endless turnover, dismal customer service, and sluggish operations:

  1. The “Burger-Flipper Fallacy”: This mistaken belief assumes that one can easily transition employees from low-skill jobs, such as fast food workers, to a complex and high-pressure environment like a healthcare call center. This belief results in hiring individuals who are ill-equipped for the demands of the job, which leads to poor performance, extreme stress, and high turnover.

  2. The “Low-Skill Lie”: This false belief assumes that call center work is low-skill labor, and therefore doesn't require comprehensive training or support. This belief results in under-trained employees who are unable to effectively handle their roles, which means repeated mistakes, low customer satisfaction, and excessive turnover.

  3. The “Micromanagement Myth”: This mistaken belief assumes that the solution to errors and inefficiencies is more stringent oversight. This leads to a stressful work environment where employees feel over-scrutinized and undervalued. This not only damages morale but also inhibits employees' ability to learn and grow, leading to reduced productivity and high turnover rates.

  4. The “Intelligence Illusion”: This false belief assumes that errors are due to the lack of intelligence of the employees, rather than from systemic issues or inadequate training. This belief can create a toxic work environment where employees are blamed for errors, causing high stress, low morale, and excessive turnover. 

  5. The “Victim's Vortex”: This mistaken belief assumes high turnover is inevitable due to external market conditions, and the organization is simply a victim. This belief leads to a sense of powerlessness and lack of proactive measures to improve the situation, which only perpetuates the cycle of turnover. 

By challenging these beliefs, operations leaders can start addressing the underlying issues and move towards a more effective and harmonious work environment. 

7 solutions to your contact center staffing problems

To transform your operation, you must change the way you think about it. Adopting the core principles below will empower your organization to flourish and scale.

1. Treat your contact center staff like knowledge workers—not manual laborers.

Call center staff’s jobs are abstract. They can’t touch or see patients and they must follow many conceptual rules. It is a high-performance, high-pressure job that requires intellectual capability.

Non-clinical healthcare contact center staff need to master a complex set of skills:

  • Effective communication: Staff must listen actively, speak clearly, and convey information in a concise and empathetic manner.

  • Customer service: Staff must demonstrate a patient-centered approach, be polite and professional, and address patient concerns promptly and efficiently.

  • Medical terminology: Staff should have a strong understanding of basic medical terminology to accurately assist patients and relay information to healthcare providers. 

  • Mentally balance a high number of variables in real-time: These variables include the patient’s primary question, workflow requirements, different provider needs, changes based on insurance, documentation requirements, and more. 

  • Telephone etiquette: Staff must be proficient in managing calls, including handling multiple lines, transferring calls, and placing callers on hold.

  • Data entry and computer skills: Staff need to be comfortable using computers and software, and they must accurately enter patient information into electronic health records.

  • Time management: Staff must prioritize tasks, manage their workload, and complete assignments promptly. 

  • Problem-solving: The job requires staffers to identify issues and find effective solutions. They also must escalate complex problems when necessary. 

  • Multitasking: Staff need to handle multiple tasks and responsibilities simultaneously without becoming overwhelmed or sacrificing quality.

  • Emotional intelligence: Staff must empathize with patients, understand their emotions, and respond appropriately to their needs. 

The Bottom Line:

By recognizing and treating contact center staff as knowledge workers and providing continuous training and fair pay, organizations can debunk the “Burger-Flipper Fallacy” and “Low-Skill Lie.” This approach fosters a sense of respect and loyalty among staff, which in turn reduces turnover rates and enhances the quality of customer service.

2. Don’t micromanage, because it crushes efficiency.

By being transparent and empowering employees with the tools they need, organizations can create a sense of ownership, which boosts efficiency and overall service quality. 

Micromanagement has deleterious effects on morale and productivity. Studies have shown that extreme micromanagement lowers retention and engagement levels, and is ultimately counterproductive because it pummels efficiency

It is well-established that employees with a sense of control over their tasks tend to be more satisfied and productive. A study published in Motivation and Emotion found that people who feel a sense of autonomy are more likely to be motivated and successful in their tasks (Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (2000). The "what" and "why" of goal pursuits: Human needs and the self-determination of behavior. Psychological Inquiry, 11(4), 227-268). 

3. Offer continuous training and support to engender retention. 

The positive effects of ongoing employee development and training are well-documented. A 2018 study by LinkedIn found that 94% of employees would stay at a company longer if it invested in their learning and development (LinkedIn, 2018 Workplace Learning Report). 

By offering continuous training and clear career progression paths, healthcare call centers can shatter the “Burger-Flipper Fallacy” and “Low-Skill Lie.” Investing in training and development transforms employees from interchangeable parts into unique assets—and it enhances their skills and fosters loyalty—which in turn improves customer service and reduces turnover rates. 

4. Pay your staff knowledge worker rates and reward longevity.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, organizations that offer competitive wages have a lower turnover rate. This tip directly addresses the “Victim's Vortex” belief. By offering fair compensation and rewarding long-term employees, organizations can boost employee loyalty and retention, and this ensures the retention of experienced staff who serve as mentors to new hires. 

5. Encourage a culture of feedback and open communication.

Gallup research indicates that managers who receive feedback are 3.5 times more likely to be engaged. This directly counters the “Micromanagement Myth.” 

By implementing a culture of open communication and feedback, employees feel heard and understood, which reduces the need for micromanagement. This fosters a healthier work environment, improves performance, and ultimately enhances customer service.

6. Promote work-life balance.

The importance of work-life balance in reducing stress and increasing job satisfaction is supported by a vast amount of literature. According to a study published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, employees with high work-life balance report significantly lower stress levels (Grzywacz, J. G., & Carlson, D. S. (2007). Conceptualizing work–family balance: Implications for practice and research. Advances in Developing Human Resources, 9(4), 455-471).

This approach directly challenges the “Intelligence Illusion.” By respecting employees' personal time and promoting a healthy work-life balance, organizations can improve employee well-being, and this leads to better decision-making, less burnout, and improved overall performance. 

7. Remember: You have the power to beat the market.

While it can be challenging to find and retain skilled staff in a competitive job market, there are solutions and strategies that can help. It's important to remember that challenges are opportunities for growth and improvement, and with the right mindset and approach, call center leaders can break free of the Staffing Trap and achieve their goals. 

What are the best practices for medical call center staffing?

You can be confident you’re following best practices by checking items off this list. Fill in any gaps to ensure your operation runs beautifully every single day.

1. Review and adjust compensation to target skilled workers. 

This means offering competitive pay and benefits to attract and retain top talent in a competitive job market. Remember: Your non-clinical staffers are not manual laborers.

2. Invest in constant employee development.

Dedicate time and resources to providing ongoing training and development opportunities to improve your staff’s skills and knowledge. Your employees will be happier and less likely to burnout, which will boost morale across your entire operation.

3. Foster a respectful and appreciative work culture.

This means creating a positive work environment that values and recognizes staff contributions, and that encourages teamwork and collaboration.

4. Provide tools for staff to measure their own performance. 

Give your employees access to metrics and performance data so they can track their progress and identify areas for improvement. This gets them more engaged in their work.

5. Encourage autonomy and implement reward programs for long-term employees.

Give your staff the freedom to make decisions and take ownership of their work, and reward them for their loyalty and dedication to the organization. 

6. Develop a comprehensive onboarding process. 

Provide new employees with a structured and thorough orientation program to help them quickly acclimate to their new role and the organization. 

7. Implement regular feedback sessions and open communication. 

Offer opportunities for staff to share feedback and ideas, and create a culture of open and honest communication between staff and management.

8. Simplify the complex work of healthcare call centers through other tips in this series. 

Implement techniques and strategies to optimize all facets of your operation. Go in-depth on these methods here: ==> 

Explore Staffing Resources Vault

Posted By

Stephen Dean

Stephen first built his career in information technology, working as a developer for Hewlett-Packard and several start-ups. He received his MBA from Duke before co-founding Keona Health, where he manages all facets of finance, marketing, and operations.

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