In an effort to reduce phone wait times and improve the patient experience, Alameda Health System (AHS) took a deep dive into call center operations. Reports showed our patients were on hold from seven to 25 minutes. The call center team proudly reports a wait time reduction of 700 to 2,500 percent.

“Our goal is to be patient centered, provide quality care over the phone and ensure patients have the best access to their providers. At one point we had a 20% abandon call rate, at times it could be even higher. We recognized this was not good customer service and change was necessary,” said Ivonne Spedalieri, AHS call center manager.

To better understand the problem the team pulled data for the highest call volume times and highest call abandon rates and reviewed staffing and coverage during those periods.

“We found that we had enough staff, but we just didn’t have them scheduled at the appropriate times. We changed the call center hours from 6 a.m.-7 p.m. to 7 a.m.-5:30 p.m. to better serve patient needs. In addition, we revised break and lunch time schedules to reduce the number of staff away from the phones at the same time to ensure coverage,” said Rafael Vaquerano, AHS director of ambulatory patient access and integration.

Further analysis found providers and facilities did not have a standardized intake process which was causing delays in appointment scheduling. The deep dive uncovered some appointments were easy to make while others took more time due to the complexity of the scheduling system, adding to call center wait times.

“Clinical standardization of care is a priority for AHS. Even though call center staff aren’t in the clinical setting, it is important for them to have standard operating procedures as well. We created standard work and noticed significant improvement,” said Vaquerano.
According to both Vaquerano and Spedalieri, the overall change happened over the course of a year but the results have been phenomenal. They say a key to success was having staff involved and engaged throughout the process.

“I shared daily, weekly and monthly reports with staff to give them encouragement. I was thrilled to be a cheerleader for my team. I saw how this led them to embrace change immediately and execute flawlessly which in turn led to an improved patient experience. My staff haven’t shared with me any patient complaints in regards to wait times in a while, which is encouraging for both patients and staff,” said Spedalieri.