Six Ways to Leverage Your Patient Call Center During a Crisis

5 Minute Read
Posted by Global Healthcare Resource & Lisa Eramo on Apr 11, 2024 9:54:08 AM

On February 21, 2024, the U.S. Healthcare System suffered an unprecedented cyberattack causing a worst-case scenario for many hospitals: billing and cashflow disruptions, limited or no electronic remittance advice from health plans, prior authorization and e-prescription challenges, and an inability to perform eligibility checks for patients.  On April 7, 2024, nearly seven weeks after the first cyberattack, a second ransomware group attempts to create more havoc.  

During a time of crisis, it can be expected for patient call volumes to spike as patients experience care delays, medication gaps, and unexpected out-of-pocket expenses. In addition, many patients simply have general questions about whether their protected health information has been compromised. As hospitals continue to recover from the cyberattacks—and prepare for any future crises—healthcare leaders can leverage an often overlooked resource for crisis management: The patient call center. 

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Six ways to leverage your patient call center during a crisis: 
  1. Identify the role your patient call center will play in crisis communications. During a cyberattack or other type of crisis, patient call centers play a vital role in providing consistent and clear communication. Call center agents are not only available to answer questions and calm concerns; they can also provide proactive outreach. For example, if a cybersecurity attack renders one or more healthcare locations temporarily unable to maintain operations, call center agents can reschedule appointments or direct patients to other facilities. Or if hackers access unprotected health information, agents may be able to notify patients directly regarding what information was breached and what the organization is doing to mitigate risk. Take the time to proactively brainstorm ways in which the patient call center can assist with your organization’s response during a crisis.

  2. Have a plan to boost staffing. During a crisis, patients want answers and clarity. Without a plan to accommodate surges in call volumes, your organization may negatively impact call center key performance indicators during a time when patients are already upset and vulnerable. Partnering with an outsource patient call center staffing vendor that can get up to speed quickly may be an extremely viable option.

  3.  Keep your call center agents updated. Helping patients during a crisis requires you to continually update call center agents as the crisis unfolds. As your organization learns more about the recent cyberattack or other crisis, agents should be among the first people informed. Agents should also be able to clearly articulate your organization’s response and specific steps your organization is taking in real time to protect patients. Proactively establishing clear communication channels to disseminate information internally should be a top priority.

  4. Create scripts to answer common questions. Equip call center agents with scripts for common scenarios/questions that could occur during a crisis. Here are some that may have occurred since the cyberattack:

     •  I ran out of my prescription medication and can’t afford to pay out-of-pocket until the cyberattack is resolved. What should I do? What are my options?

     •  Was my personal information breached during the cyberattack? How do you know for sure whether it was or wasn’t?

     •  I am suddenly inundated with medical bills. Why did this happen? And what if I can’t afford to pay this large amount all at once?

  5. Focus on empathy. It’s normal for patients to have concerns about potential incidents involving their sensitive information. Addressing these concerns with empathy and transparency during a cyberattack or any type of crisis is essential. Reiterate the importance of agents being able to acknowledge the impact and outline steps your organization is taking to resolve the crisis. Empathy can also go a long way in terms of rebuilding patient trust and reputation, both of which are critical—especially in the wake of a cybersecurity attack. 

  6. Gather information for crisis management. Decide what information call center agents will collect/document (and how) to inform current and future crisis response strategies. Keep this in mind: Data your call center agents collect may help your organization identify a problem as quickly as possible—and even before your payers, vendors, or other business associates do. 

No healthcare organization wants to anticipate a crisis that derails daily operations. However, crises do—and will—occur. The question is, what will be the magnitude? Regardless of whether it’s major, minor, or somewhere in between, your patient call center is a vital resource to help you navigate through it. 

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Founded in 1999, Global Healthcare Resource has been a leader in revenue cycle management solutions and proudly employs 6,000+ HIPAA compliant coders, billing professionals and patient call center agents. Global operates as an extension of your office to improve productivity and increase ROI.