Featured Practice: Church Health — Reducing Phone Wait Time through Redesign and Language Access

Practice transformation is at its best when multiple quality improvement changes are made to address one issue and when synergy between changes results in tangible improvements felt by both patients and providers. That has been the case at Church Health, where they have dramatically reduced phone wait times by redesigning the entire phone system and related policies. 

Church Health, located in Memphis, Tennessee, is a faith based, safety net clinic with a strong commitment to caring for the body and spirit. What began as a primary care clinic in 1987 has blossomed into a full integrated health system that provides specialty services including dental, optometry, behavioral health, and physical therapy. Last year, Church Health served 13,000 uninsured and underserved patients. 

Long phone wait times had been a problem at Church Health– patients were having to wait an average of 5 minutes to speak with someone. Staff changes, language barriers, and frequent need for training staff on the phones were major reasons for this inadequate customer service measure. Under TCPI’s guidance, Church Health implemented several changes. They first studied best practice models for how other clinics structure their phone procedures, including visiting local community contacts. Next, they focused on communicating to patients the multiple ways they could contact the clinic, emphasizing the online patient portal’s scheduling feature. Next, they added a separate, monolingual Spanish line to serve Spanish speaking patients. Finally, staff redesigned the phone tree. Instead of having all calls go through a central location, separate phone lines were established for different service lines. This required training staff to answer phone calls that had not traditionally done so, but the redesign greatly reduced the number of calls coming through each line.         

The average wait time on the phone for patients is now just over 1 minute— a remarkable decrease from baseline. Patients not only feel more valued, but short wait times also decrease barriers to scheduling and ultimately enhance access. This change story exemplifies Church Health’s commitment to trying new things and making bold changes. This is what healthcare transformation is all about, and how we will provide robust, patient-centered care under new delivery models. These changes signify a win-win situation that reduces stress and increases satisfaction for patients, staff and providers alike. You can read Church Health’s full story at this link.

The views expressed in this story are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of Church Health.Additionally, this work was funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services – Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ Transforming Clinical Practice Initiative, under grant number 1CMS331549-03-00. The contents provided are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of HHS or any of its agencies.

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