New research has concluded that healthcare organizations are missing high volumes of incoming calls, in part because when they return messages, patients can’t tell who’s on the line. This problem has apparently gotten worse with the inception of COVID-19, the study found.
Communications technology vendor First Orion surveyed roughly 1,000 U.S. mobile phone users in April to learn more about their phone usage habits and willingness to respond to incoming calls.
More than 75% of users responding to the survey reported that they’d missed an important call during the week. More troublingly, just under a third of respondents said that they were missing such calls more frequently during the current pandemic.
Researchers found that the bulk of important calls consumers missed related to healthcare issues. Of those, 36% were from their doctors’ office, pharmacy (15%) and hospital (9%). Other topics for missed calls were related to financial issues (33%) and work (23%).
When consumers tried to close the loop by calling back again, things often went awry. While 85% tried to return these calls, half found it difficult to do so. At that point, almost 5% of consumers got so frustrated that they went to the physical location of the business that had tried to reach them.
Part of what creates this cascade is that consumers end up exchanging calls with an automated system, many of which have been overrun by COVID-19-related concerns. Respondents noted that many of the important calls they had missed had been in response to voicemail they had left with the business originally.
Things often go downhill from there. Survey respondents said that when they tried calling back again, more than one-third of ended up leaving another voicemail message, a process that frequently turned into a pointless game of phone tag.
According to First Orion, part of what’s feeding this unfortunate dynamic is a mismatch between consumers and the technology businesses are using to stay in touch.
On the one hand, as organizations cope with a surge in volume related to COVID-19 issues, many are deploying automated call-back solutions to respond to consumer inquiries. However, in many cases these automated calls come from unidentified numbers, and it’s common for consumers to ignore calls from those they don’t know.
The reality of the current situation is that while consumers may be at risk if they don’t respond to some healthcare messages, they may be too overwhelmed and emotionally fatigued to respond to unknown callers. Put another way, while the use of callback systems that don’t identify the call origin might make sense on paper, under current conditions they might be creating inefficiencies of their own.
This is not to say that high-volume systems don’t have their place, of course. Depending on what the systems cost and how effectively they set callback priorities, automating some aspects of the patient outreach process might still allow organizations to complete a meaningful number of critical exchanges with consumers.
However, you’ll probably want to give consumers a heads up that the next anonymous call they get might be from you. Otherwise, neither side might make it past the phone tag stage.