Bat Phones, Blue Phones, and On-Star

I was listening to a GM commercial for their OnStar service earlier today, and it made me wonder.  If GM can design a service, staff a call center, and make money in the highly competitive car market, why can’t healthcare?

Conceptually, it seems like such a great service.  No interactive voice response (IVR)…you actually get to a live agent right away.  You press a button and you are connected…no remembering numbers or having to find the right time to call.  They help you with any issue…rather than route you to some other person for follow-up.

bat-phone.jpgMany of you will remember the “Bat Phone” from Batman where (if memory serves me) the Commissioner could pick up the phone and be instantly connected with Batman to ask for his help.  We tried a few programs to get at this at Express Scripts.  We worked with BCBS of Massachusetts to pilot the “Blue Phone” which was placed at certain high volume pharmacies and allowed patients to pick up the phone and talk directly to an agent that could address questions about their claim (i.e., why has my copay changed?  why isn’t this drug covered?  the claim got rejected, why?).

“Customers seem to be willing to use the Blue Phone more each day,” said Jon Hersey, pharmacist at Stop & Shop. “The response from BCBSMA is routinely quick and customers don’t spend a lot of time waiting on the phone. This saves time for us and keeps the customers happy, because we can spend more time filling prescriptions and less time answering questions.”

The other thing we tried was setting up a tiered customer service model where high utilizers of prescriptions were given a direct dial that took them directly to a group of skilled agents.  Patients loved both the Blue Phone and the tier service model.  The challenge of course is staffing appropriately and managing costs.  BUT, if companies were more proactive in call obviation, they could employ solutions like this.  If companies mined their data to identify when patients would call and reached out to them before they called to address their questions, then inbound call volume would drop dramatically and would be more the exception than the rule.

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