HCA operates five physician and patient contact centers around the country, where nurses are available day and night to speak with patients by phone. Every single caller is dealt with professionally and compassionately, and gets real-time advice from a healthcare professional.

How important is that? Well, left to their own devices, some people with high fevers may try to self medicate, when they should see their physician. Or someone who thinks they just have a stomach bug might have something serious going on, and should head to the Emergency Room. A nurse, however, can pick up on those symptoms and provide triage.

Types of calls vary

Those are the times where having a nurse on the line makes all the difference for the callers. And the centers log a lot of these calls, which is why they are beginning to operate as more of a cohesive group rather than standalone entities.

“Of the 2.2 million calls the centers answered in 2013, nearly 400,000 were related to nurse triage,” says Deb Reiner, Vice President of Customer Relationship Management. “In the past, not every hospital with all markets had access to these services, but we are bringing together the five centers to act as one, so that all our hospitals have the benefit of nurse triage. This is another example of how HCA is working to leverage its size and scale to benefit patients.”

In addition to handling “sick” calls, registered nurses at the contact centers also offer health and wellness information, as well as help callers find and set up appointments with physicians, or register for health and wellness classes at HCA facilities. Overall, it’s a win-win situation, because the callers get the assistance they need, while doctors and hospitals get the right patient at the right time, Reiner says.

“We have five centers now, and 80 of the 210 employees in are registered nurses, consistent with our main focus being patient care,” Reiner says. “There is a marketing component, such as for class registration. If someone just found out they are diabetic, or they are new to town and need a doctor, we help with that. We also set appointments; if someone just left our Emergency Department and needs follow up care with an orthopedic surgeon, for example, we help set up that appointment.”

The centers are being upgraded to offer more capabilities and are targeted to serve all of HCA’s hospitals in the United States by May 2014. By that date, a new call-queue system will ensure callers are sent to the next available nurse who can respond. Staffing will be ramped up so that more calls can be handled at each site, rather than building new facilities, and the centers also will undergo a technology buildout so that they can provide more complete online scheduling as well.

“Right now there are 7.5 million discharges a year from HCA’s Emergency Departments,” Reiner says. “About 100,000 of our current calls are appointment setting. As we ramp up online appointment setting, we’ll be integrating with appointments patients set up online after they are discharged, so we’ll know they made the appointment. That way we don’t call and bother them, but can stay on top of follow-up care.

The nurses at the centers come from all kinds of background, so everything from emergency care to pediatrics is represented. That’s helpful, given the wide range of calls that come in. What’s more, the centers allow many nurses — and their vast knowledge — to keep providing patient care when they are no longer able to tackle 12-hour floor shifts.

“They’re still involved in patient care, and they are still doing real nursing,” Reiner says. “What the centers are doing is very, very important, and allows our highly trained people to continue their careers longer than they might have been able to before. At the same time, we are finding nurses who are earlier in their career are also interested in working at our centers.  They are intrigued by the variety of types of calls received at our centers. ”

Currently, HCA has call centers in

  • Nashville
  • Fort Myers, Fla.
  • Kansas City
  • San Antonio
  • Salt Lake City