Combating Burnout Among Healthcare Contact Center Agents

145
Teams of doctors working together in medical office

Healthcare is being battered by an epidemic of employee burnout. In a recent AMA survey, more than half of responding clinicians reported experiencing high levels of stress from overwork, low staffing levels, poorly designed technologies and inefficient workflows – on top of the emotional weight of dealing with stressed, confused or scared patients and their families.    

Though clinical staff are usually the focus of most research into healthcare burnout, studies show non-clinical staff, especially those who deal directly with patients, experience similar occupational stress. This includes healthcare contact center support agents. Healthcare support workers routinely interact with patients and health plan members who may be under great duress and even in pain. These patients may be anxious to obtain test results, receive answers to questions regarding insurance benefits and coverage, or schedule an immediate appointment for a cardiologist or other chronic care specialist. 

Advertisement

Healthcare is intensely personal. It doesn’t matter whether you are a heart surgeon or contact center support agent: Your job is to help patients and plan members with potentially serious concerns regarding their physical and mental well-being. No wonder they’re anxious! For contact center workers, being empowered to assist these people efficiently and empathetically is essential to 1) delivering exceptional service and 2) feeling enabled and valuable at work.  

Many contact center support agents, however, work with technology far from user-friendly. These agents are overwhelmed by call volume and, because of inefficient workflows, lack the ability to easily find the information patients or health plan members urgently need.

The pandemic exacerbated these challenges for healthcare contact center support workers, contributing to burnout and high rates of turnover, costing organizations from $10,000 to $20,000 for each departed agent, McKinsey writes. Even when agents who are burned out remain at their jobs, they tend to underperform, particularly if they lack sufficient support, tools, and training to be effective.  

Conversely, a survey conducted for McKinsey showed that “contact center employees who are satisfied with their job overall are four times more likely to stay with their companies for at least a year.” 

The evidence is clear that contact center agent burnout and turnover are huge costs for healthcare organizations. What can healthcare providers and insurers do to reduce contact center agent burnout and turnover and enable agents to fulfill their desire to help patients and plan members? There are several strategies they can deploy: 

Assist agents in real time using AI.

Healthcare contact center agents are under intense pressure to help people who have questions or concerns regarding lab test results, references to specialists, prescriptions, deductibles, billing, and other important medical and insurance issues. These patients and plan members may be agitated or even angry, which can intimidate inexperienced support agents and diminish their effectiveness and ability to respond appropriately. 

Artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), natural language processing and other smart technologies are available that allow agents to quickly resolve patient and plan member issues by proactively providing them with next best-action recommendations for each step of a live call or digital chat. In addition, these tools can perform sentiment analysis and then provide cues for agents to respond to patients and members in the most empathetic way. This is far more effective than the traditional “script” approach used by support centers because it facilitates genuine human interaction, which increases the job satisfaction of healthcare agents. 

Provide agents with an integrated, user-friendly interface.

When agents are trying to find critical information for a distraught patient or plan member, the last thing they need to deal with is a poorly designed interface that slows them down. Agents don’t have the time to navigate through multiple screens and apps during a live call or chat. Healthcare organizations should equip agents with easily navigable interfaces that integrate multichannel data. 

Automate repetitive tasks.

Simple but necessary tasks such as opening a new case or pulling up an existing account can bog down contact center agents when handling patient/member queries. Integrating automated functionality into the contact center platform can streamline workflows for agents, freeing them up to focus on more complex tasks and on the person they’re trying to assist. 

Self-help for patients and members.

Automation also can be used by healthcare organizations to offer self-help options to patients and plan members comfortable making their own appointments, ordering prescription refills or other routine activities. Automated self-help functionality streamlines the support process for agents while providing patients and members an opportunity to be self-sufficient. 

Use AI/ML to “train up” agents.

Intelligent technologies can be used to raise the quality of support provided by all agents across the contact center by learning the techniques of top performers. These techniques then can be standardized for training and during agent interactions with patients and members. 

Conclusion 

The effectiveness of healthcare must be measured across the entire patient journey. Contact center support agents are a critical link in this chain of care. Thus, when that link breaks down, the patient experience suffers. A modern, intelligent cloud-based contact center provides healthcare organizations with a robust technology platform that can reduce burnout and attrition by empowering agents to focus on assisting patients and members.  

Patty Hayward
Vice President of Industry Strategy at

Patty Hayward is the vice president of industry strategy for healthcare and life sciences at Talkdesk.