October 13, 2006

elevate: Answering the Tough Questions

Featured Image

Medical Center leadership answers the tough questions about what the elevate program is and what it means for the people who work at VUMC.

Question: Until recently, Vanderbilt Medical Group had an in-house answering service for patients placing after-hours calls to their doctor's office. Why do we now pay an outside company to do this, and is administration satisfied with the way this arrangement is working?

Answer: After-hours calls were increasing and too many callers were being placed on hold and eventually hanging up before getting through. We considered whether to expand our operation or engage outside assistance.

Our call center lacked backup generators, a weakness that would require correcting only if the after hours-operation were to continue; at a cost of $350,000. A software update would cost another $200,000. These expenses would come on top of costs for additional staff.

After gathering recommendations, we settled on a large, well established answering service that also serves physicians at Cleveland Clinic, Washington University in St. Louis, Memorial Sloan Kettering and other academic centers.

Our on-call protocols are complex. There was some confusion during the first months of the new service. We're working with departments to straighten out any remaining problems. Using a questionnaire, we've also gathered useful feedback from doctors as they've come off call.

Most of the difficulties have passed and our new service is running more smoothly. Establishing this contracted service was the right thing to do — though in hindsight we could have done more to prepare for the transition. The service benefits our patients and our institution.

Anyone still experiencing problems with this service should contact Jon Hamilton, R.N., manager, VMG Once Center, jon.hamilton@vander-bilt.edu.

— Racy Peters, director of common systems, VMG