How UNC Health Tackled Staff Burnout Webinar Recap
WELL Health® commissioned a study, Clinical Support Staff Burnout Linked to Patient Communication Challenges (The Burnout Study), which discussed the effects of the patient communication coordination process on clinical support staff and the results were sobering. 88% of those surveyed reported moderate to extreme burnout, with 56% rating their burnout as “high” or “extreme,” overwhelming them to the point of wanting to quit. 82% said they believe the patient communications process is a direct cause of their burnout.
Around the same time, UNC Health (UNCH) collaborated on a case study with WELL® about how UNCH used the WELL Health digital communications platform to overcome staff burnout and increase morale by implementing efficient workflows that led to a reduced workload. Since the Burnout Study recommended leveraging patient communication tools to reduce staff burnout and UNCH’s experience proved the recommendation to be correct, WELL invited UNCH to share their findings in a webinar on December 12.
Meg Aranow, Senior Vice President, Client Success at WELL Health, hosted UNCH’s Velaire Elliott, Healthcare System Manager of Access, and Tammy Jones, Administrative Support Supervisor. The discussion started with Velaire explaining that with their last vendor, UNCH didn’t have the opportunity to engage in text messaging with their patients or the ability to look at improving their referrals outreach. She said, “We couldn’t do the additional communications that we can do with the WELL Health platform. WELL brings additional functionality to the table and we wanted to have those capabilities to be able to offer a better experience to our patients.”
WELL reduces support staff frustration and enables achieving phone service level goals
Meg cited from the Burnout Study that 63% of clinical support staff reported they considered quitting or switching jobs because of the stress caused by patient communication processes. 82% of support staff report frustration communicating and coordinating with patients over the phone.
As their supervisor, Meg asked Jones if her staff experienced any frustration with phone-based communication. Jones responded that her staff was indeed frustrated when they only used phone-calling to communicate with patients since it resulted in a great deal of phone tag.
However, WELL enabled UNCH to communicate with patients at a time and with a method that is convenient to them. Jones explained patients may not always be in a place where they could answer the phone, but they could always respond to a text message. Patients also will not answer an unknown number, but sending a message via text allows patients to read the message and know the communication is from a trusted party so they will respond.
UNCH sets phone service level goals for their staff so Meg asked Elliot to explain how they worked and how WELL enabled UNCH to finally reach their goals. Elliot shared that UNCH sets phone service level goals for all front desk and scheduling staff that measures how quickly they can answer the phone. The expectation is that 80% of the time staff will answer the phone within 30 seconds. Before WELL Health, the call center staff only achieved this goal 65% of the time. After WELL was implemented, the staff exceeded the 80% goal and even reached an all-time high of 93% of calls answered within 30 seconds.
Improved workflows lower staff stress while raising morale
When asked by Meg to talk about the ways WELL helped UNC make workflows more efficient, Tammy replied, “WELL’s bidirectional texting reduced the number of contact attempts needed which resulted in a reduced workload for the staff. Texting also empowered patients to reach out when it was convenient for them and provided a more patient-centered approach that patients really appreciate.”
Jones also shared that with UNCH’s old reminder system, patients would accidentally cancel their appointment and had no immediate recourse other than a phone call to notify the clinic that they did intend to arrive for their appointment. With WELL, patients can instantly respond to the text message, letting staff know the cancelation was in error so the patient keeps their appointment, the staff has less work, and everyone is happy.
Meg asked about the effect WELL had on staff stress and morale. Jones replied that before WELL, the staff was really stressed because there wasn’t enough time in the day to get everything done. But once the calls decreased, they now use that time to complete other required assignments. The improved workflows affected job satisfaction since the staff is more engaged and eager to work with other teams and train them on the workflows so they will have the same success.
They are also happier about coming to work, and there are fewer callouts. Staff often call out because they’re stressed, and UNCH has seen a reduction in staff taking time off. Patient satisfaction also increased because they feel like we’re being more considerate of their time – patients give direct feedback, they really like the text messaging.
UNCH Rheumatology Department Referral Conversion Rate Increased by 30%
In January 2021, the rheumatology department implemented WELL Health to assist with referral conversion. Meg asked the guests to talk about that process and how WELL helped UNCH to raise referral conversion rates. Elliot explained that at UNCH, referral conversion is the ability to receive a referral order and convert it into a scheduled appointment. From the date that the referral is ordered, they want to see an appointment scheduled within three weeks.
At the beginning of 2021, UNCH received a high volume of referrals due to business growth, however, it did not have more staff to schedule appointments. They expected to see a decrease in its referral conversion rate. But with WELL two-way messaging, UNCH was able to text its patients about setting up a referral appointment, and patients could instantly text or call back. This type of outreach proved more effective than sending messages through My UNC Chart or leaving phone voicemails that may not be heard.
After three months of using WELL, UNCH Rheumatology improved their referral conversion rate from a disappointing 30% to consistently averaging a high of 75% every month. In August 2021, the rheumatology department twice reached the UNCH system-level goal of 85%. Tammy added, “We get so many referrals completed in a day now because of WELL Health texting.”
Communication challenges negatively affect Patient Health and Experience
The Burnout Study found 63% of support staff reported their patients noticed their burnout while 58% believe that their burnout has negatively affected a patient’s quality of care. Meg said with providers increasingly entering value-based contracts with payers, quality of care and patient experience have never been more important. She asked Tammy if her staff felt that their burnout caused specifically by communication challenges negatively affect their quality of patient care?
Tammy replied it did, especially during the beginning of COVID when there was a lot of patient shuffling to allow for social distancing, the staff was working twice as hard to complete those tasks plus their regular work. With twice the work, and no additional staff to do the work, mistakes were made. But now, they have a better balance to complete all of the work with their improved patient communication tools.
How UNCH plans to use WELL in the future to further improve patient communication
Now that UNCH has had success with WELL in multiple departments, Meg asked what other plans UNCH has to implement WELL throughout the health system. Jones replied they are using WELL Health features such as Rescheduling to instantly rebook canceled appointments and Broadcast Messaging to send messages to a large group of patients regarding weather-related closures. UNCH is also using WELL to send communications to prepare patients for virtual visits to eliminate the need for staff to call patients to walk them through the technical preparation process for a telehealth appointment.
Elliott said that UNCH is also adding ChatAssist AI to automate conversations between patients and providers, alerting staff to intervene only when needed. This is the next step in UNCH’s ultimate goal to alleviate staff workload.♥