COVID-19 has forced operations leaders across healthcare to manage through unprecedented levels of disruption. Creating an organization and service model that is flexible allows a leader to not only survive during these times, but thrive. Flexibility is more critical now than ever, especially as access centers play an increasingly important role in helping patients get the care they need – whether that care is in person or virtual. Health systems can achieve this through a combination of people and technology. Here are some essentials for enabling flexibility.
It’s all about the people and whether they are engaged. Employees are the most important stakeholders in any organization. If your employees are engaged, they will help enable flexibility and your access center’s performance will be more likely to fall in the upper quartile according to this Gallup study. Engagement comes by a) getting alignment that it’s a competitive advantage, b) fostering open and consistent lines of communication, c) capturing feedback on ways to improve and d) hiring great people managers and investing in them to better understand what it takes to lead people in an environment that is virtual, in person, or a hybrid of the two.
Another critical component of employee engagement is showing your agents that you’re willing to invest in them through training. Training should not be viewed as a necessary expense but rather as a differentiator and enabler of flexibility. For example, cross training agents to handle multiple call types, specialties, and scheduling scenarios will help you flex with demand, as well as expand your access center’s services when needed (for example, doing outbound calling to patients with cancelled appointments due to COVID-19). It will also create a career path as employees are drawn to go deeper with certain specialties, departments, or functions. In turn, this will help decrease the impact of employee turnover.
By creating a culture of engagement and investing in your employees, they in turn will be more invested in their jobs and care more about the team’s success and the patient experience. Engaged employees are committed to their organization’s mission and are going to arrive every day with the intention of contributing to it. A highly engaged workplace fosters lower absenteeism and greater resilience.
The right technology can help ensure that any function can operate with more flexibility. As an access center leader, it is essential to ensure that patients have a satisfying and consistent access experience across channels. The information patients encounter about providers, locations, and services needs to be accurate no matter where the patient’s journey begins, be it on a website, in an urgent care setting, or on the phone with an agent.
The first step to delivering a seamless experience is to make sure that underlying provider and location data is accurate and up-to-date in a system-wide directory. Ensure that the data agrees with source systems and that agents, consumers, and others alike have an easy way to search it when arranging appointments. It’s also critical that the systems your agents use facilitate secure remote access. This will enable you to allow agents to work from home, which in turn offers tremendous upside related to engagement, productivity and costs in normal times and is clearly essential during situations like the COVID-19 pandemic.
By focusing on employee engagement and the right technical solutions, operations leaders can build the foundation of a more flexible operating model. This flexibility will allow them to adapt to anything that comes at them which, in turn, will help them thrive in any environment and continue to deliver a differentiated patient experience even amid disruption.