Computers and artificial intelligence have come along at an exponential rate over the past few decades, from being regarded as oversized adding machines to the point where they have played integral roles in some legitimately creative endeavours.
As CIO of Australia’s largest network of home visiting doctors, Anthony Buhler recognises the importance of customer-led strategies and innovation.
Steering a path towards improved engagement, the National Home Doctor Service (NHDS) has taken steps to adopt technology that streamlines contact centre operations in a bid to slash speed-to-answer times and improve patient care.
“The goal of the technology adoption is to improve patient care through streamlining the call centre process and improving the caller experience (an added benefit was greater operational efficiency), and provide options for carers to communicate with us in the way in which they preferred, within the constraints of validating their needs for an urgent at home consultation,” Buhler told CMO.
With more than 800 doctors in its team, the NHDS provides urgent after hours medical care to more than one million patients at home and in aged care facilities in capital cities and regional areas around Australia. Buhler said a focus on a customer led strategy is essential to NHDS’s future - with telephony one part of the equation.
“We are passionate about improving patient care and have a wide range of initiatives underway from enhancing our telephony services and building out omni-channel options, to sending SMS to patients with doctor’s arrival time information, ongoing coaching of our call takers, improving our measurement methodologies, focus and research groups, by improving doctor engagement and routing and scheduling we improve wait patient time and visit experience,” he said.
In updating the telephony system, Buhler said the NHDS had a big challenge on its hands: The organisation was created through the amalgamation of six separate medical deputising services operating across five locations around Australia. As a result, the organisation was managing a variety of legacy systems to support its contact centre activities.
"We wanted to replace the legacy systems with an integrated technology stack that was robustly engineered," Buhler said. "In particular, we wanted a platform that could provide both inbound and outbound capabilities as well as call recording.This had to happen in the context of providing urgent care for patients across Australia."
NHDS’s ICT team reviewed the needs of each contact centre to determine the baseline requirements for the organisation. After rigorous vendor examination, NHDS adopted the Customer Interaction Centre (CIC) from Interactive Intelligence, which went live in Melbourne, Adelaide, Brisbane and the Gold Coast.
Buhler said the goal was to adopt a solution that would offer a high level of service to its patients, and provide the critical element of call recording facilities.
“For reasons of privacy and security, NHDS wanted to be able to retain the recordings within its own data centre while allowing Interactive Intelligence to manage and maintain the remainder of the infrastructure.” he said. "To achieve this we opted for a hybrid architecture where Interactive Intelligence hosts the core servers and software and we keep control of the voice recordings.”
Improved patient care
Buhler said the latest technology adoption means patients and carers can receive a consistent, efficient and empathetic service, which is aware of the status of their request and doctor’s arrival time.
In particular, the adoption of Interactive Voice Response (IVR) software capabilities means patients can provide their phone and Medicare numbers while they wait for an operator, and a patient’s contact details can be available to the operator as soon as a call is taken.
"We can also host call recordings on site and route calls to different contact centres (depending on volume), which makes it easier to balance the load across all our operators," he said. "This is also very handy when we need to work around carrier-related issues and maintenance windows, which typically occur during our operational window.”
Since using the software's auto answer functionality, the average speed-to-answer for calls at NHDS has reduced, from 76 seconds to 22 seconds. "When you are dealing with more than two million incoming calls each year, this adds up to a significant improvement in caller satisfaction and saving in time," Buhler said.
Operators can also be logged onto the system based on their skill set rather than their location. This means calls requiring specialised customer service can be automatically routed to the operator best able to deliver it, he added.
And while the benefits are clear and tangible, Buhler said there were a few challenges along the way. “Changing processes whether manual or digital take time and engaging with our widely dispersed teams – although change oriented - provided the biggest challenge.”
But it was well worth the pursuit, he added. “We are a patient centric service where personal empathy and concerns are the core of what we do. Technology supports this core by taking some of the heavy lifting.”