How Hospital Answering Services Can Affect Disaster Preparedness and Patient Health Outcomes

New Jersey is no stranger to man-made and natural disasters such as Hurricane Sandy, which had a devastating effect in many areas. Hospitals and health systems throughout the state as well as across the country must plan for such disasters when communication can be challenging due to loss of infrastructure. This can affect everything from difficulties in locating and informing medical staff and patient families to communication with outpatient services and physician practices. It is in this area where hospital answering services can play another integral role in affecting patient health outcomes.

When communication infrastructure goes down, the hospital or healthcare enterprise’s focus on the patient is even more heightened. The surge of incoming and outgoing calls during these times would swamp the ability of existing staff to handle even if the communication infrastructure were intact. Families of patients are calling for updates on the status of loved ones while outpatient service centers and associated physician practices are calling to reschedule or verify in-hospital procedures among many others.

As for outgoing communication, the hospital staff must locate and contact every staff member that is either on-call or is scheduled to be at the facility to ensure that they are aware of disaster plan procedures. In addition, the normal schedule of checking in with recent discharges regarding status and outpatient healthcare procedures and medication procedures are crucial.

A hospital answering service is not only a crucial resource during normal operations; they become indispensable during a disaster. By outsourcing a significant percentage of routine communications as part of normal operations, hospitals, staff and outpatient service personnel can ensure that checking in on outpatient health status and appointment calls can be handled without overburdening an already taxed staff. In addition to the communication efficiency of such a system, health systems can realize savings over the costs of dedicated staff or automation systems to handle these and other communication protocols.

Health systems that have already established ongoing service relationships with one of the leading specialized healthcare call centers in NJ have already laid the groundwork for developing a comprehensive disaster preparedness communication plan. This is because the hospital answering service is already familiar with standardized protocols and scripts for patient communication (both incoming and outgoing calls). They are also familiar with staff location protocols whether they are by pager, cell phone, email or other means. It is these protocols that form the basis of a communication disaster plan.

With HIPAA privacy considerations an ongoing mandate in all communications for healthcare enterprises, it is imperative that the hospital choose call centers in NJ that can fulfill these legal requirements. In addition, they must be able to provide the specialized understanding that it takes to fulfill healthcare communication. Consequently, disaster planning only enhances the need to have a hospital answering service that can meet these requirements and that have the proven track record in healthcare to seamlessly integrate with the needs of the hospital.

Providing such a model as part of a disaster preparedness plan ensures that patients and staff are engaged and managed throughout the entire care continuum as well as throughout the community that the healthcare enterprise serves. Everything from patient status for family members, appointment scheduling, follow-up, education, and retention to staff location and communication can be efficiently handled during a disaster or otherwise by skilled hospital answering services. This broad scope makes it clear as to what type of effect this can have on patient health outcomes during the best of circumstances as well as some of the worst as in times of natural or man-made disasters where communication is critical.