By MARTIN TRAUTSCHOLD
Healthcare organizations are facing tremendous pressure to do more with fewer people, and automated Interactive Voice Response (IVR) technology is proving to be a realistic solution to streamline customer service and payment systems. Industry leaders expect that future applications of IVR can further improve efficiency in the healthcare industry.
IVR is an automated technology that allows human callers to make self-service, interactive calls using their phone’s keypad or voice input. The technology reduces the demand to speak with live agents and helps callers to complete important transactions quickly and securely.
Why healthcare organizations are using IVR technology
The healthcare industry is often slow to implement technology at scale, but hospitals, healthcare systems, physician groups, and medical billing firms have already seen success with the early implementation of IVR automated technology.
The major appeal of IVR technology for healthcare organizations is that it allows patients to interact with their healthcare providers over the phone to make payments 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, without needing to interact with a live agent. Healthcare organizations can:
- Collect more payments
- Protect patient privacy
- Cut down on administrative costs, including payroll
Patients also have real-time access to important information about their accounts, including their outstanding balances. Some software vendors, such as Epic Systems, allow real-time access to authenticate a caller, provide a balance, hear recent statement balances, hear about recent payments, payment plan details, and post a payment. That means patients can hang up the phone and immediately log on to their online Epic MyChart patient portal to see their updated account balance. Staff members are also able to see payments immediately from the IVR in the Epic system.
Some IVR phone systems also include the option to switch over to a HIPAA secure text chat for people who prefer texting. The text chat in some cases can satisfy the patient’s request completely, eliminating the need for a voice conversation. A single billing representative can handle several text chats simultaneously compared to a single voice call, further improving efficiency and the ability for a single representative to support more patient queries.
Automating routine tasks with IVR technology helps healthcare organizations save time and get more accomplished with fewer people who are often working from different locations. Live agents can either work in the office while assisting patients in-person or operate remotely to focus on simultaneous customer support tasks.
Improvements and future possibilities of IVR technology
Ideally, IVR technology will eventually be seamless enough to completely assist callers, so they don’t have to speak to a live agent.
In the future, IVR technology will greatly benefit from enhanced voice recognition and more secure text chat capabilities. And, as voice recognition technology continues to advance, IVR systems will soon even detect a speaker’s tone, dialect, and other nuances. Sure, the tried and true touch-tones of telephone keypads will still exist, but callers won’t need to use them as often.
In the next five years, we envision IVR technology understanding what a patient was doing before making a phone call to their provider. For example, the system could greet a caller with a prompt such as, “I see you were recently on the patient portal exploring your balance. Would you like to make a payment today?” This capability will lead to faster, more efficient service.
There will undoubtedly still be a need for live agents to handle more complex tasks, but additional IVR integration will allow for more seamless transfers between live agents and IVR systems. Callers won’t need to re-authenticate their identities by sharing personal information multiple times during a call, and IVR systems will be able to gather more information for the live agent to save them time.
This technology will be useful for those who prefer texting over phone calls. Live agents will be able to text with multiple patients at once rather than requiring callers to remain on hold to speak with someone.
Tracking IVR success using metrics is crucial
IVR technology is adapting rapidly, and it’s important to monitor the effectiveness of systems to ensure a frictionless caller experience.
Since IVR technology is customizable, the system can be adjusted to respond to different needs in the fastest, most direct way possible. Changes can be made proactively or after evaluating key success metrics.
Organizations can measure the effectiveness of an IVR system by tracking key metrics such as: the number of callers who successfully authenticate their information, complete payments, and need to transfer to a live agent. Other secondary metrics, which are important are percent of callers who call after hours and on weekends -- when this number is well below 20%, then we recommend looking at the after hours phone transfer (is it worded correctly and working) and are the patients educated of the 24 hour availability of the IVR?
If unfavorable patterns emerge from these metrics, a detailed IVR Review - and likely a review of the overall IVR Call Flow - can identify problems with the system.
1-800 Notify is a communications company that has developed a special payment IVR service designed specifically for healthcare organizations. Our automated system can securely authenticate a patient’s identity, share account balance information, and take payments without requiring the caller to speak to a staff member. In addition to the IVR systems, 1800 Notify also helps healthcare providers create and send automated, HIPAA-compliant appointment reminders to patients. 1-800 Notify clients across the United States have reported better patient appointment attendance, higher rates of consistent wellness checks, and improved patient communication.
Our data has shown that offices using IVR technology can:
- Handle 30% or more of all patient calls to the billing office
- Reduce the need to hire additional staff for the billing call center
- Reduce hold times for patients waiting to speak to a live agent
- Offer better customer service by allowing agents to have more time to assist patients
- Improve patient satisfaction by allowing patients to pay their bills by phone on their own schedule (including evenings and weekends when they might be sitting down to pay their bills)
Martin Trautschold is CEO of 1-800 Notify, a healthcare communications firm that is fully HIPAA and PCI compliant, an Epic App Orchard Partner and integrates with many systems. 1-800 Notify reduces no-shows and boosts collections by supporting millions of inbound Payment IVR (Interactive Voice Response) phone calls, patient balance due reminders, two-way appointment reminders, and patient wellness and broadcast messages. Visit www.1800notify.com