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November 19, 2007

Call Centers Optimal Choice to Handle Communications in Health Emergency

By Susan J. Campbell, TMCnet Contributing Editor

Call and contact centers are well known for the value that they can deliver to the organization. Once considered a mere drain on capital resources, these centers are now used to drive customer satisfaction, loyalty and even revenues. A new report has found that these centers can serve an even greater purpose for the common good.

According to a recent report from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), leveraging the resources of established call centers to serve the public in the event of a health emergency is an option to consider.

The report was developed by a panel of experts and contains strategies and tools to enable community call centers to respond to caller concerns about health risks, collect disease surveillance data, sort calls according to urgency, monitor or contact people quarantined at home, and help callers to identify and take dispensed drugs appropriately.

A model called the Health Emergency Line for the Public (HELP) was developed to direct call centers in adapting for emergencies. Developed by Denver Health under a contract with AHRQ, the model uses interactive response technology to provide public information and decision support related to health events in Colorado.

The AHRQ report provides a blueprint for the HELP model, along with four detailed interactive response applications for the model. The applications allow callers to use their touch-tone phones to automatically retrieve critical information during a public health emergency.

While this report focuses on the ability of call centers already used by health services providers sponsored by local or federal government services, this strategy can extend beyond these calls centers in the event of national emergency situations.

Government entities are not necessarily adequately prepared to handle the influx of communications that would certainly result in the event of a national emergency. The result would be mass confusion, incorrect information being delivered, improperly transferred calls, abandoned calls, and more to generate complete chaos.

These entities instead can look to those organizations that are skilled in managing, routing and handling calls – no matter the volume. Such a strategy can ensure that the proper information is communicated, individuals get the help that they need and mass chaos can be, for the most part, avoided.

There is a reason why the outsourced call center industry is the big success that it is – these organizations know how to manage customer calls efficiently and effectively. In the time of a health crisis or even national emergency, such professionalism and organization will be needed to ensure the American public feels safe and secure.
Susan J. Campbell is a contributing editor for TMC (News - Alert) and has also written for To see more of her articles, please visit Susan J. Campbell’s columnist page.
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