New Health Care Center Standards expand accreditation scope to centres with limited opening hours

Washington 15 September 1999Recognizing the important role of health call centres, the United States leading standard-setting body for managed care organizations just broadened its standards to include all health call centres. The American Accreditation HealthCare Commission, referred to as the URAC, has just released the second generation of its accreditation standards for health call centres. These organizations respond to requests from health plan members for guidance about their health care. The revised standards, which are titled "Health Call Center Standards, version 2.0", accommodate the full range of telephone health information programmes. They are broader in scope than the prior version, titled 24-Hour Telephone Triage and Health Information Standards, which applied only to call centres that provided around-the-clock coverage.

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According to Garry Carneal, URAC President and CEO, many consumers rely on the guidance they receive from call centres and similar telephone programmes to make health care decisions. URAC recognizes that many call centres operate only during non-business hours. Mr. Carneal continued that the novel standards provide a way to hold accountable all health call centres, like any other managed care programmes, for the quality of service they provide. URAC will continue to recognize 24-hour health call centres with a special accreditation seal. The novel standards will enable URAC to accredit health call centres that operate less than 24 hours a day. A typical example of such a health call centre would be one that operates in conjunction with a doctor's office. The health call centre handles calls during the hours the doctor's office is closed.

Health International of Scottsdale, Arizona operates a 24-hour health call centre. Linda Vincent, Assistant Vice-President for Health International, explains that accreditation is important to a health call centre as a means to keep your health call centre operations state-of-the-art within the industry. URAC accreditation helps accomplish this goal. Ms. Vincent also highlights the importance of health call centres as an excellent source of providing health information and offering immediate assistance. The "Health Call Center Standards, version 2.0" provide a number of important consumer protections. The standards protect the confidentiality of consumer information and ensure that only qualified health professionals provide clinical information and opinions. The standards also establish minimum requirements for how long the call centre may keep a patient on hold before connecting the patient with its representative.

The "Health Call Center Standards, version 2.0" are able to offer benchmarks in the following areas:

  • Health Information and Confidentiality
  • Staff Qualifications
  • Clinical Quality
  • Access and On-site Review Procedures
  • Information upon which clinical activity is conducted
  • Call Documentation
Fred Ferree, URAC chairperson, commented that these standards form a major step forward for the patients and other health care consumers. Call centres constitute an increasingly popular mechanism for providing valuable information to patients. The standards provide a major way for consumers and health care purchasers to find out which call centres have decided to adhere to national quality standards.

Health call centres, also known as demand management, telephone triage, and telephone health information, are becoming an increasingly prominent feature of the health care system. As such, in February 1998, the Business Communications Company (BCC) released a report titled "Telemedicine Opportunities for Medical and Electronic Providers". BCC estimates the current US market for telemedicine to be $65 million. The BCC report also predicted the health call centre market to reach $3 billion by 2002. BCC expects a growth rate for telemedicine of 35 percent per year over the next five years. Many health plans and other health benefit programmes contract with call centres to serve as an important source of information for patients, especially when the patient's primary care physician or members of the health plan staff are unavailable. In many episodes of care, the call centre may be the patient's first point of contact.


Leslie Versweyveld

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