The New Skill Set Contact Center Agents Need to Improve their Digital Bedside Manner

COVID-19 has disrupted the healthcare industry, causing healthcare organizations to postpone procedures like elective surgeries to free up resources to care for COVID patients. As the pandemic continues to keep non-COVID patients out of clinics and hospitals, more patients are receiving the care they need while staying at home.

Why Bedside Manner Matters to Contact Center Agents

Since patients are avoiding physical visits to their clinic or hospital, many of them are interacting with their healthcare providers digitally. As a result of this shift, healthcare contact centers across the nation have been inundated with a high volume of calls since the pandemic began – making contact center agents the first touchpoint in the patient experience. Now that more patients are relying solely on these digital interactions, the first impression that an agent has on a patient can impact their perception and experience with the healthcare organization as a whole, whether it occurs over the phone or through chat. In many ways, contact center agents are now being called upon to deliver a digital bedside manner in their interactions with patients today – requiring a slightly different skill set than was previously required for the role.

Related: Easily Enable Virtual Care & Telehealth Deployments

According to the 2020 Patient Sentiment Report published by the Medical Group Management Association (MGMA), 52% of patients stated that they wanted their doctor to have at least one of the following qualities: compassion, comfort, patience, personality and bedside manner. With contact center agents now on the frontlines of patient experience, these characteristics are just as important to embody in a chat with a patient as they are for doctors or nurses to display when physically at a patient’s bedside. As healthcare contact center agents interact digitally with patients for more complex matters, they are being called upon to sharpen their communication/listening skills, as well as their ability to balance empathy with efficiency, to improve their digital bedside manner.

Communication is the Core

Just as communication is a critical skill for doctors and nurses who treat patients in a clinic or hospital, it is, perhaps, of even greater importance for today’s contact center agents. Picture the traditional scenario of a doctor visiting with a patient in a hospital room. When the provider interacts with the patient, a number of different factors go into play that make up that communication as whole: the nonverbal communication (posture, facial expressions, gestures), visual communication (eye contact) and the actual content of the words spoken. Each of these elements are important as they enable the healthcare provider to effectively interact with the patient, clearly communicating the diagnosis/prognosis – and, hopefully, leaving them satisfied with their experience.

Since the interactions that contact center agents are now having with patients are occurring digitally – whether that be over web chat, SMS or on the phone – the nonverbal components of communication, such as body language, can no longer be used to help convey any information in a conversation. This places a greater emphasis on an agent’s active listening skills – making sure that what the patient says is clearly understood and interpreted to best engage back in conversation with them. Imagine if a doctor visited the room of a patient and both parties were blindfolded – they would have a much greater need to rely on their listening skills to navigate through the conversation. In many ways, this is similar to the challenge that contact center agents face as being the first touchpoint for a patient, digitally. Digital interactions make communication skills, especially active listening, more critical than ever before for contact center agents as they seek to improve digital bedside manner and patient experience. 

Empathetic, Yet Efficient

In addition to communication skills, empathy is also essential to delivering a positive bedside manner for both healthcare providers and contact center agents alike. In the traditional hospital setting, patients are, of course, experiencing pain or discomfort and the feeling of having the provider be empathetic to their situation is critical to the patient experience. Although a patient calling into a contact center can appear to be a different type of scenario altogether (at least in terms of the need to show empathy to a person in pain), that is not always the case. In today’s COVID era many contact center agents often interact with severely ill patients who are calling in to determine if they need to be admitted to a hospital.

As contact center agents interact more frequently with patients who are calling in severely ill (as opposed to a healthy patient calling in to schedule an annual check-up) they must improve their digital bedside manner to display empathy as the first point of contact with the healthcare system. Of course, even as agents take on more responsibilities in their role as communicators, they must balance being empathetic and showing their digital bedside manner while remaining efficient in their interactions help the contact center maintain service levels.

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