How ‘EQ’ Can Improve ROI in Healthcare Patient Outreach
Most health plans and physician practices rely on dedicated call centers to engage their patient/member population. Typical tasks include scheduling wellness visits and health assessments, coordinating appointments, arranging referrals, and follow-ups.
What is also far too typical is the anemic success rates of these transactions due to uncaring, disconnected, improperly trained callers seeking to connect with wary, untrusting, and impatient health plan members.
Too often, call center representatives sound robotic, checking off items from a prepared template. Worse yet, they may actually be vocal robots. Some encounters that begin as robocalls fish for a member to pick up and wade through keypad options before a human comes on the line. By then, you've lost 'em. That's where call center reps could benefit from emotional intelligence training and practice.
Effective customer service representatives should be focusing on member needs ─ meeting them in their comfort zone and offering support to complete their interaction. This applies equally to an elderly Medicare member, an enrolled employee, or a busy stay-at-home parent on a private insurance plan. To be truly effective at engaging with members and patients, while maximizing ROI, call center reps need to incorporate emotional intelligence.
Emotional Intelligence (or EQ) in the Age of Robocalls
Emotional intelligence (also known as emotional quotient, or EQ), is the ability to understand, use, and manage emotions in positive ways to relieve stress, communicate effectively, empathize with others, overcome challenges, and defuse conflict.
People who exhibit a high EQ strive to understand others, read social cues, and manage challenging situations effectively to achieve their goals. EQ can be learned, and should be an integral part of any call center culture. But it doesn't always come naturally, and it’s a lost opportunity if reps don't harness this important asset.
Softening the Target Creates Emotional Trust
With countless healthcare scams seeking information for identity theft, or other ways to steal people's money, establishing trust ─ even before a call ─ is crucial. It's the physical equivalent of two factor identification, and it dramatically increases receptivity.
Communicating in writing (postcard, email, or text) a week or so before reaching out by phone can turn a cold call into a warm call with a scheduled appointment. When a rep does make contact by phone, they should follow a proven protocol:
· Explain who they are and why they're calling (This is not a sales call!)
· Develop a repertoire of icebreaker questions that make a personal connection, address anxiety, and establish a comfort zone
· Talk slowly and clearly; listen with empathy
· Don’t rush a member off the phone; let them chat, share concerns and needs
A thorough health risk assessment benefits both members and health plans, yet many people hesitate to schedule a 30-45 minute in-person or virtual visit with a nurse practitioner (NP). Customer service representatives trained in member engagement know how to address and overcome concerns:
· When a patient declines because they already have a doctor, explain that an assessment
is not meant to take the place of their providers or the care they receive from them. An NP will ask questions about their health and answer questions to help support a physician’s care.
· When a patient declines a visit because they are not comfortable letting others into their home, an empathetic member engagement rep will address concerns and assure the member that the NP is very professional and fully qualified. They can even schedule a visit when a caregiver or family member is present. Telehealth visits are also an option. A rep can help with technology.
Member Engagement Matters
An effective member engagement system makes a provider’s job easier, and improves health plan scheduling for wellness and specialist visits.
· Primary care providers can send cues to a call center to make specialist appointments
· Member engagement specialists can enter information directly into a patient’s EMR, call them with the date and time, and arrange transportation if needed
· Reminder calls, emails and texts help ensure patients keep their appointments
· Following-up on a patient’s progress, to see if they need additional help, is appreciated
Elderly patients need extra support
· Customer service representatives trained in emotional intelligence are able to engage members differently than a standard cold call
· Elderly members don’t respond well to robocalls or voicemail options; they want to speak to a knowledgeable person
· U.S. based member engagement professionals tend to communicate better with this population
· Non-tech savvy members may need help with telehealth visits, patient portal setup, etc.
Quality vs. Quantity
Many call centers incentivize, and bill, based on number of calls they make in a day instead of how effectively they "close the deal" by truly connecting with members to schedule visits and provide extended services.
Personal connection in a virtual world is more important than ever. People appreciate speaking with member engagement representatives who listen, understand their concerns, and approach them with care, based on their personal needs and comfort level.
The best call centers, and their member engagement teams, utilize emotional intelligence strategies to build relationships that retain clients for many years.
Gregory Deranian is Vice President of Business Development & Marketing at Focus Care, Inc, a leading national healthcare services company that partners with major health plans, ACOs, and physician offices nationwide to enhance quality of care for their Medicare, Medicaid, and ACA populations.