The Critical Role Hospital Call Centers Play During and After a Disaster
The ever-increasing threats from natural and human-made disasters have made the use of disaster response systems a necessity. Nearly two-thirds of U.S. residents live in areas that are rated as having a moderate to very high risk of experiencing a natural disaster (hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, hail, wildfires, and earthquakes).
In a Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) report titled, “Active Shooter Incidents in the United States in 2018”, twenty-seven shootings were identified as active shooter incidents; which resulted in 85 deaths and 128 people wounded (excluding the shooters).
When disaster strikes, both local and national call centers provide critical communication services to help coordinate first responders and rescue teams, organize relief efforts, enable communication between loved ones, and support communities during recovery.
Disaster Preparedness and Business Continuity
Disasters often occur without warning. Weather events, mass violence, and other incidents can cause an outage or strain on communication systems. However, organizations can formulate a disaster preparedness and business continuity plan in anticipation of a catastrophic event. Hospital call centers are an important component to any disaster preparedness plan because they often become a communications hub during an emergency.
National, state, and local agencies often work with hospitals to develop a plan for coordinating call centers. They identify partnerships with organizations such as 9-1-1 and Emergency Medical Services (EMS), to determine how to integrate each call center into a larger communication network, for efficient allocation of services and dissemination of public health information.
The use of technology enables call centers to execute their disaster preparedness and business continuity plans quickly and efficiently. Automatic Call Distribution (ACD), Interactive Voice Response (IVR), Uniform Call Distribution (UCD), and other communication software can automate call routing systems. Leveraging automatic notifications and critical alerts helps to speed communications and shorten reaction times.
Emergency Notifications, Critical Alerts, and Web-based Mass Communication
Methodist Medical Center of Illinois (Methodist), part of Unity Point Health Methodist, is located in the heart of Peoria, Illinois, and includes a 330-bed hospital with almost 600 board-certified physicians.
To ensure the safety of their patients and staff, the technology used by the call center at Methodist, helps to prepare them for any type of situation. By using a customizable critical alert system, operators can quickly contact multiple people when various disaster and code calls come through their center.
When an emergency notification is needed, an operator triggers the alert by simply selecting a group to notify, and typing in the alert message. The message is broadcast to the appropriate personnel via each recipient’s preferred contact method. This helps ensure that hospital personnel can respond to each situation as quickly as possible.
Benefits of Cloud Technology and Virtual Servers
Communications failure is not an option during a disaster. Having the ability to route calls to another center in the event of an emergency is crucial. For example, if a call center is physically located in an area that has become inaccessible or damaged due to a catastrophe, calls can be sent to operators off-site, using cloud technology on a virtual server. A single virtual server, located anywhere in the country, can bring call centers together to operate seamlessly - even if they all use different PBX telephone systems.
Using web-based call center communication software, any computer may become a secure, professional telephone agent station that can be accessed through the Internet. Calls are handled by operators located in a different center, or home-based agents; and all of the tools used by in-house operators are accessible to the virtual agents.
Hospitals and clinics that are part of a larger healthcare enterprise use this technology to provide backup call handling within their own system. Rossi Fraenkel, Business Analytics Team Lead for Allina Health in Minneapolis, Minnesota comments, “In the event that any of our other clinics were to have a power outage or go down, those calls roll to us at the contact center. We provide our organization with a really good, strategic value. It's absolutely critical that we take calls no matter what.”
Disaster Recovery and Relief
Hotlines managed by agencies such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), are activated to provide callers with assistance related to government disaster aid, insurance claims, home repairs and more.
Hospital call centers experience an influx of calls from people who are inquiring about hospitalizations of loved ones, safety advice, and help for themselves. Individuals who witness or experience a catastrophic event are often negatively affected by it. Coping with the shock of a disaster can make a someone feel fearful, confused, and suffer from anxiety.
Call center agents can connect callers with disaster crisis counseling to help people who have been affected by traumatic events. Callers who are patients of a healthcare organization who participates in telehealth, may be able to take advantage of instant, secure video access to mental health professionals.
Including hospital call centers in a coordinated call center system, is crucial when developing a disaster preparedness and recovery plan. Establishing a comprehensive policy may require a significant time commitment and thoughtful input from a variety of agencies and organizations; however, the effects of organized communication and efficient use of community resources during a crisis, helps save lives and speeds recovery efforts.