Voice telephony applications afford healthcare providers, payers, and their technology partners a low-cost way to supply valuable information to patients, as well as to streamline compliance processes. All without taxing existing internal resources.
Historically, the use of voice systems has been functionally limited and unimaginative, focusing primarily on basic caller greetings and call distribution (“for appointments, press 1, for patient hours, press 2”, and so on). However, more progressive patient-centric providers are thinking critically about how to improve patient care by expanding the scope of voice prompts within their patient-facing systems, as well as using professional voice actors to sound more professional, accessible, and caring. A number of hospitals we work with now make the following information available to their patients through these systems:
- Flu hotline – One hospital places their patients a touchtone away from a flu information that includes a listing of symptoms and how to treat them, immunization protocols, plus advice on the efficacy of over-the-counter drugs.
- Outpatient lab services – This includes what patients need to bring to appointments and how to obtain and where/how to send medical records.
- Driving directions and service hours – A tertiary hospital can offer dozens of services across multiple sites: urgent care, radiology, physical therapy, etc. A well designed auto attendant system can guide patients to the right locations at the right times.
- Hiring information – One hospital even provides voice prompts that educate prospective physicians and other staff on the process of applying for open positions and how to track an application throughout the interviewing process.
There is a new sense of urgency for health care providers, payers, and “med tech” companies to be more creative and flexible in leveraging voice systems. Changes in the nation’s healthcare policy present new challenges to these organizations. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) represents an opportunity to help their stakeholders sort through the myriad of options, and the information and processes associated with them. The ACA requires that all Americans acquire healthcare, and mandates the establishment of state exchanges through which patients can choose from a variety of plan options. In addition, the law mandates a new set of required benefits and establishes compliance protocols for reporting.
While central websites have been set up to inform the general public, such as www.healthcare.gov, we believe that forward-looking healthcare providers see the opportunity to generate goodwill among their patients by providing them localized, over-the-phone ACA information in their native language. Here are some examples of such information:
- Enrollment deadlines and other information – Key dates have been established for plan enrollment. However patients of hospitals in certain locales may have state-specific enrollment milestones and requirements that could be cost-effectively communicated via voice systems. Plan-specific deductibles, out-of-pocket costs, and penalties for non-enrollment could also be communicated in this manner – enabling patients to make the right choice.
- Qualification requirements – There are a myriad of rules governing who is eligible for certain plans – including changing income thresholds for coverage qualification. Make this information available any time a patient calls in.
- New benefits – ACA mandates the coverage of pre-existing conditions and certain preventive care measures. Informing stakeholders of these changes in the course of a patient phone call not only generates good will, but may reduce the overall cost of coverage.
- Additional sources of information – A good voice system can point patients to resources that could help them make choices. For example, the Kaiser Foundation Family Calculator enables patients to determine cost savings associated with various plan options, based on their personal situations.
ACA also requires organizations to report employment hours as part of its compliance regime. Many human resources departments are now updating their caller prompts to enable this information to be collected over the phone.
The benefits of professionally-recorded voice prompts
Healthcare choices can be the source of stress and confusion. If you’re a patient faced with looming deadlines and confusing options, do you want to hear a robotic or disinterested voice when calling your provider? And, on the provider side, do you really want time-strapped internal resources to be employed to record and track voice prompts when plan options change and the next round of ACA rules/regulations need to be instituted? Plus, we can’t neglect serving constituencies who speak languages other than English?
Professional voice actors are trained to sound positive and helpful to callers. They are also proficient at recording with consistent tone, inflection, and pronunciation across multiple sessions, spanning years, so that changes can be made over time without compromising the integrity of the voice user interface.
Patients are reaching out to the healthcare community through a myriad of channels – including interconnected web-based systems, mobile apps, and social media – but the telephone is still a critical component for patient outreach. Expanding the scope of information accessible to patients is an effective and low-cost vehicle for keeping them informed, up-to-date, and most of all, healthy.