The occupational health clinic at UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, Texas, manages a patient population of over 18,000 employees and over 12,000 students and teachers from the associated medical school. With a population so large, it is understandable that the occupational health clinic receives at least 80-130 phone calls a day. While managing the struggle of handling a large volume of incoming calls is a burden not unknown to any ambulatory care clinic, the staff in occupational health are pulled between managing their own responsibilities, whether it be onboarding, exposures to pathogens, injury clinic, student health, or COVID tracing, and must also manage incoming phone calls from employees trying to find answers to questions as quickly as possible so that they can return to work.
At the beginning of the fiscal year, there was a 60% abandon rate for incoming calls. Employees who called in would be left lost in the haze of the clinic with an overall feeling of frustration. Occupational health staff were also frustrated and felt unable to manage their own duties and the volume of incoming calls. In order to better assist our employees and our staff in occupational health, we developed a schedule of dedicated phone time. Every staff member responsible for managing incoming calls has a set time to devote to care coordination via incoming calls and nothing else, much like the “med nurse” on the floor who would wear an orange vest when they were doing medication calculations and checks so that they would not be disturbed. Shifts are broken up into an hour of dedicated time, and staff are expected to be accountable by recording their end of shift call numbers, so that data can be collected. They also must provide a reason if they are not able to log on for their dedicated time. In this instance, we are always able to assess for time management educational needs and review techniques if necessary.
Two months into this project, we have seen a substantial increase in calls answered and cases handled. We are now at a 40% abandon rate. Employees in occupational health have responded well to the schedule structure. We have found that, rather than expecting all employees that are responsible for answering incoming calls to log onto the phone all at once and expect equal share of responsibility, we have far better outcomes if we use a schedule of dedicated incoming call care coordination time.
We are not yet at our goal of 92% of incoming calls answered and handled, and have now hit a plateau and, unfortunately, stopped improving our numbers. We will next provide reinforcement education on customer service and time management skills to our employees, so that they can improve their swiftness and efficacy when handling cases and questions via phone calls with the goal that our numbers will continue to increase.