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Initiative to speed call response times sees success

May. 21, 2015, 10:33 AM

For patients who pick up the telephone to call VUMC, one of the first opportunities to make a good impression is how quickly they get a real person on the line.

An initiative in the past year to improve the speed that calls to Vanderbilt are answered is showing signs of success.

During April, the average time it took representatives to answer a call was 23 seconds, beating VUMC’s target of 30 seconds. The average time is down 83 percent from the first quarter of the current fiscal year, when calls were answered in an average of 135 seconds.

“Critical to our success was understanding that the experience of patients and families is not just about outcomes but also how available we are to assist every patient, every time,” said Brian Carlson, MBA, MHSA, director of Access and Patient Experience.

Carlson and Stephan Russ, M.D., MPH, associate professor of Emergency Medicine and associate chief of staff for Access, along with Maria Melton, associate director of Access, led the effort to improve the handling of incoming calls at the Medical Center.

The Medical Center also beat the target average answering time in March, putting the institution on track to achieve its goal for the whole fourth quarter.

“The patient’s experience begins with their initial call to the Medical Center,” said Paul Sternberg Jr., M.D., chief patient experience and service officer for VUMC and chief medical officer of Vanderbilt Medical Group. Sternberg also leads the Patient Engagement Steering Committee.

“Thus, this remarkable improvement in our responsiveness to patient phone calls will have a profound impact on service to our patients and their families,” Sternberg said. “While it is critical that we are able to sustain this outstanding performance of our Patient Access Center team, this success warrants universal praise.”

Along with the goal of reducing the time to answer calls, the initiative also focused on reducing the percentage of calls that were abandoned before reaching a representative. For April, only 3 percent of calls were abandoned, beating VUMC’s goal of 5 percent. That’s an 82 percent reduction from the 16.6 percent of calls abandoned during the first quarter of the current fiscal year.

“Since the vast majority of our patients still use the telephone to communicate with their providers, improving this fundamental aspect of our customer service is the right thing to do and will result in direct rewards for the Medical Center through increased customer satisfaction. I want to express my appreciation to everyone involved and congratulate them for surpassing these goals,” said C. Wright Pinson, MBA, M.D., deputy vice chancellor for Health Affairs and CEO of the Vanderbilt Health System.

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