Rapidly deploy coronavirus chatbot and virtualize workforce: A real-time physician practice case study

How quickly can a coronavirus chatbot be deployed? How can practices rapidly virtualize if 20% of the workforce self-isolates?

For physician practices, population health events such as hurricanes, mass terror attacks, and epidemics cripple operations and patient communications. Many team members may be stuck at home but still able to work.  Live chat, two-way text and chatbots can help mitigate inbound patient communication volume and help rapidly virtualize isolated workers.

Medical Offices of Manhattan, a 30-provider physician practice, is using MedChat to accomplish these goals right now.  Working with their partner Tidal Health, they were able to rapidly deploy a Coronavirus chatbot.  They are also well prepared to rapidly virtualize staff forced to self-isolate.

“Starting in 2019, we virtualized some workers for after hours and weekend patient inquiries,” said Craig Gruen, chief communication officer for Medical Offices of Manhattan. “Weekend voicemail and email had been backlogging to Monday morning, the time of our highest call volume.  Virtualization enabled us to handle weekend inquiries in near real-time and relieve the Monday rush.”

Tidal Health, a key partner to MOM, deployed MedChat just a few weeks previously. Live chat agent onboarding was well underway with inbound chat volume starting to grow.

“Even with all our preparations, the Coronavirus required us to rapidly deploy what we were building for,”  continued Gruen.  “We are fortunate we already had a virtual infrastructure including MedChat for live chat, chatbots and two-way texting.  We had a Coronavirus chatbot live within days and are working in real-time to prepare for rapid virtualization if needed.”

Inbound call volume has already picked up.  Coronavirus-related inquiries have categorized into triage, testing, and appointment changes.  Some patients want to know whether they should come into the office for already scheduled routine appointments.  Others wanted advice on whether to travel or go to work.

Gruen wanted a Coronavirus chatbot to help agents triage and resolve these inquiries more efficiently.  He also wanted to easily modify the chatbot’s workflow and responses as the situation develops.  For example, as commercial COVID-19 testing becomes more readily available, Gruen intends to use MedChat to help facilitate test ordering through LabFinder.com, MOM’s lab and imaging test ordering platform.

Bryan Cush, co-founder of Tidal Health Group said, “We needed to ensure the flood of patient inquiries were handled efficiently and effectively.  The situation aligned well with the digital front door and consumer engagement approach we had already deployed. MedChat is a particularly useful and flexible tool which can be rapidly adjusted as the situation develops.”

Tidal Health worked with Gruen and his team to deploy live chat and chatbots in just a few hours to address Coronavirus inquiries. Some (10%) could be resolved with no agent intervention by referring consumers to trusted sources such as the New York Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control. Chatbots helped triage inbound patients who needed live agent assistance by clarifying consumer intent and triaging to the right agent quickly.

The biggest operational conundrum was whether to have patients come for an appointment.  Agents had to properly direct patients knowing that an infected patient coming into the office put other patients and staff at risk.  Chat provided a method to do this efficiently and also could be used to deploy virtual visits, a capability the practice had not yet launched.

By using chat and chatbots, agents double or triple productivity, opening up capacity to handle more contact volume.  This means the most talented agents could concentrate on complex situations only they know how to resolve.

If virtualizing becomes necessary, Gruen can easily ramp-up MedChat live agent users and extend those productivity gains. With 80% of staff playing a role in patient communication, the possibility of large portions of the team self-isolating would impact patient care and experience.  Physicians, advanced practice providers, front desk staff, nurses, pharmacists, contact center agents and others could suddenly be healthy and ready-to-work but stuck at home.

To serve patients, a virtual employee needs access to the EHR, virtual desktop, and VOIP phone.  Live chat and chatbots also have a critical role. Many isolates have children, elderly parents, dogs and other distractions making chat and chatbots more adaptable than phone calls in temporary work-from-home. Out of 10 practices we interviewed this week, only Gruen’s team could report readiness to quickly virtualize.

Population health events are uncommon but often stretch organizations.  Consumer experience could suffer.  By speeding and simplifying patient communication, the resources freed up could make the difference in patients getting proper and timely care.

Learn more about MedChat and our COVID-19 Chatbot by emailing news@medchatapp.com.

Valuable Sources
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2819789/
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/32081636
https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/coronavirus-may-spread-faster-than-who-estimate
https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/world/coronavirus-maps.html

Nomenclature
Virus: 2019 novel coronavirus then 2019-nCoV now known as SARS-CoV-2
Illness: COVID-19 is the sickness caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus


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