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Intelligent Virtual Assistants in Healthcare Are Not Created Equal

Phone calls account for 70% of people’s first point of contact with a health system, so hospitals have sought to implement software that balances the need for speedy automation with intelligent systems that anticipate and best serve patient and care giver needs.

The omnichannel trend in healthcare has led health systems to implement and integrate multiple digital front doors. But they can’t afford to neglect the most frequently used channel of all— phone calls, which account for 70% of people’s first point of contact with a health system. To balance the need for automated solutions with the need to make the patient journey personable and frictionless, hospitals are starting to adopt more modern technology solutions like intelligent virtual assistants (IVAs). Parlance, for example, uses automation to help health systems reduce the number of calls going to live operators by 35%-65%, so that they can focus their attention on more complex calls — from patients, care givers and internal health system callers who really need it. This reflects a new paradigm in call management, and it’s well timed. Little attention has been paid to the antiquated phone systems used by health systems around the country. Increased call volumes brought about by Covid, and the current labor shortage has resulted in a heavy burden for operators and call center agents. A common-sense approach to technology, automating routine tasks to save human effort, means that operators and agents can spend more time with people who really need it. But not all intelligent virtual assistants are created equal.

Traditional interactive voice response (IVR) software tends to provide long, confusing menus that force users to navigate the system by pressing certain numbers or saying key phrases. Inevitably, callers get frustrated and escape the call maze by pressing “0” for the operator. This leads to callers being kept on hold for longer, wastes operator time and causes revenue leakage when calls are abandoned.

Upgrading to more modern, speech-powered IVR means that patients get the benefits of quicker service, coupled with easily accessible human agents. Upgrading to IVA solutions further bridge the gap between staffing limitations and caller demand, providing even more robust access to resources and care. Patients can engage in natural conversations to accomplish routine tasks, which offloads repetitive work from contact center agents and improves patient access. 

A Healthtech company like Parlance combines conversational AI, natural language processing (NLP), and natural language understanding (NLU) with integration into EMR systems so callers can speak naturally to easily navigate to the resources they need. This transforms patient experience and allows operators and agents to quickly attend to people who need complex support or empathy, without going over budget. 

Examples of the tasks that can be automated with IVA are extensive. But common tasks that immediately optimize business operations include;

  • Patient identification through caller ID and EMR match
  • Prompting callers to confirm a probable reason for their call, based on EMR match 
  • Confirmation questions to verify caller identity
  • Appointment verification or cancellation
  • Covid-19 or health screenings
  • SMS messages with directions sent directly to patients, including links to mapping services

Although a one-time software purchase may seem attractive, this approach comes with risks and can take long periods of time for IT teams to implement and manage. On the flip side, offloading management of the technology to an expert team who takes responsibility for the solution and guarantees performance, saves time and money, and removes risk for health systems. 

In a recent interview Parlance CEO Joseph Maxwell explained that because Parlance understands caller behavior so well, it has built modern IVR and IVA technology around human factors, to ensure positive, frictionless experiences.

“A lot of our history has been in putting the tools and processes in place to optimize the experience for callers and deliver the right balance between automated and live support. We have great tools and great know-how around being able to do that. Having hundreds of health system customers that we’re already working with, some as partners helping us work out what the future looks like, is a big plus. All this puts us in a great position to immediately solve communication frustrations for healthcare consumers while also saving money for health systems.”

Photo: Andranik Hakobyan, Getty Images