The term “intangible” is often described as something that is elusive or challenging to define. On the other hand, “access” is all about finding a way to enter a particular domain. In today’s Healthcare landscape, access has become a pivotal differentiator that is characterized by its ease, seamlessness, and timeliness. For many, the digital aspect is also instrumental in influencing consumer decisions regarding Healthcare services. The competition is heating up, with pharmacy chains and even Amazon entering the Healthcare sector. If you are a pediatrician in the modern era, establishing some form of digital interface for patients to “enter” your practice has become essential for staying relevant in the market.
In today's Healthcare landscape, access has become a pivotal differentiator.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the largest demographic group in the United States comprises individuals aged 18 to 44, making up 36% of the total population. This group, often referred to as “digital natives,” expects the same level of seamless “access” to Healthcare services as they do from any other service provider. Even those at the upper end of this age range, dubbed as “geriatric millennials” are tech-savvy, having witnessed the dawn of the internet and digital technology. They have seamlessly adapted to newer forms of digital media. This demographic requires that Healthcare be competitive and provide access strategies that meet the needs of existing and emerging markets.
The true “intangible value” of Healthcare Access Centers lies in their ability to transform the Patient Experience while optimizing the operational efficiency of Healthcare facilities.
The term “Access Center” is widely used by Healthcare systems to describe a gateway into their Healthcare ecosystem. In today’s landscape, most Healthcare systems have embraced the concept of an “Access Center” to facilitate centralized Contact Centers tasked with managing patient access to services. These centers provide numerous “tangible” benefits, primarily by centralizing the scheduling of providers, tests, procedures, and patient interactions, all outside of the traditional practice setting. This approach ensures that access to services is efficiently managed by dedicated staff. It also frees up office personnel from the complex juggling act of handling phones, patient check-ins, and check-outs, and addressing provider inquiries and concerns.
The true “intangible value” of Healthcare Access Centers lies in their ability to transform the Patient Experience while optimizing the operational efficiency of Healthcare facilities. These centers offer a wide range of services, including centralized scheduling, virtual front office support, prior authorization management, pre-registration, and radiology scheduling. While the tangible benefits of these services include cost savings, reduced wait times, improved resource allocation, enhanced utilization, and streamlined communication, it is equally important to recognize the less quantifiable but immensely valuable aspects that contribute to their overall worth. Consider the intangible benefits discussed below.
Centralization in Healthcare brings about more than just improved Patient Experiences and financial benefits; it fosters an environment where specialized resources manage patient access while honing specific skills. Unlike traditional practices where schedulers handle appointments solely for their designated providers, Access Centers can train staff to handle the schedules of multiple providers. This reduces the number of required agents while enhancing patient service through more focused personnel.
Career Path and Retention
Career paths play a pivotal role in staff retention within any organization. Centralizing services empowers leadership to create career paths that evolve based on handling increasing levels of complexity. For instance, scheduling for Primary Care appointments involves less complexity than scheduling for specialties like Cardiology or Neurology. Centralization enables agents to learn, grow, and advance within the organization, thus enhancing staff satisfaction and retention.
Streamlining and Standardizing
Workflows lie at the core of centralized centers. Prior to centralization, workflows often consisted of undocumented tasks managed by various resources in diverse ways within the practice. Centralization initiates a process analysis that identifies areas for improvement. In Healthcare, as in other industries, it is common to find practices and providers within the same system handling similar queries or activities differently. Centralization addresses these inconsistencies, makes operations more efficient, and creates a consistent Patient Experience. This is especially true when patients interact with multiple providers within the same system.
Relief from Administrative Burden
Centralization also relieves the administrative burdens faced by today’s provider practices that are part of larger Healthcare systems. While traditional private practices are rare, the administrative model of private practices persists; the result is shared responsibilities for numerous administrative tasks. Understaffing has become a widespread issue which has led to chaos, competing priorities, and high turnover that overshadow efforts to match the clinical reputation and brand with an exceptional Patient Experience.
Centralization enhances the efficiency of Healthcare practices while improving the overall Patient Experience.
Centralizing patient access routes for services, such as appointment scheduling, ensures that patients’ calls are promptly answered and appointments are efficiently scheduled with the right provider, at the right location, and at the right time. This holds clear financial value by maximizing provider schedules and empowering practice administrative staff to better support clinical activities. They are now free from the burden of handling these calls.
Administrative staff are not the sole beneficiaries of centralization. Even clinicians appreciate the shift; it reduces the time they previously spent explaining and apologizing for difficulties in getting appointments scheduled by phone. Centralization enhances the efficiency of Healthcare practices while improving the overall Patient Experience and ensuring that patients receive consistent and efficient service across the entire system.
Access Centers serve as invaluable repositories of data encompassing demand patterns, capacity requirements, and patient preferences, needs, and behaviors. This wealth of information can undergo thorough analysis to enhance service quality, optimize resource allocation, and tailor Healthcare offerings to align more closely with patient demands. Prior to centralization, the challenge of analyzing demand and reporting on related activities was exacerbated by the absence of appropriate tools and expertise. Access Centers leverage tools, technology, organizational prowess, and operational strategies to yield actionable insights that elevate the Patient Experience, bolster financial performance, and fortify brand reputation.
Access Centers excel in providing a consistent level of service to both patients and providers. In the pre-centralization era, offices often closed during lunch breaks or meetings; calls were diverted to answering services or voicemail. Centralization ensures uninterrupted access, delivers steadfast coverage throughout operational hours, and accommodates staff PTO. Moreover, when additional services (e.g., referrals, orders, prior authorizations, and pre-registration) are centralized, they can be managed consistently. They offer in-depth reporting on demand and capacity, swift responses, and seamless access to services.
A workflow analysis of centralization becomes a catalyst for enhancing digital readiness, a paramount challenge faced by many Healthcare systems. Inefficient processes and workflows often necessitate extensive human intervention. Centralization streamlines these processes and paves the way for a more seamless transition towards offering digital access to services. By optimizing operations and standardizing workflows, Healthcare systems become better prepared to embrace the digital frontier. This ensures that patients can access services conveniently and efficiently in an increasingly digitalized Healthcare landscape.
I did not prioritize the benefits listed above in order of importance, nor have I included all the intangible advantages of centralization. The benefits delineated here, though contextualized within the Healthcare setting, extend to centralization efforts of any enterprise. Intangible value represents a significant asset that transcends specific industries and underscores the broader impact of centralization on organizational success.