Using Interactive Voice Response calls to enhance health system capability is on the rise. Once used primarily as an economical tool for simply directing telephone calls, IVRs are now taking a more proactive role in patient and member communications. IVRs are engaging healthcare systems with their consumers to simplify information access and collaboration. Practical applications abound, ranging from simple appointment reminders to automated scheduling, medical transport coordination, and patient education. Sophisticated ongoing proactive communication programs designed to incent and reinforce specific patient behavior are becoming common.
The benefits derived from IVR use are well known. Quantifiable data repeatedly demonstrates these automated systems contribute to reductions in readmissions, collection of accurate diagnosis information, and effective patient engagement for both wellness management and chronic care. Metrics used to confirm value often include operating cost reductions coupled with improvements in the quality of care.
A casual glance at the benefits derived from using Interactive Voice Response calls to enhance health system capability might make you wonder why there is not even greater use. A closer look at the data reveals that more is not always better. Like many medications too much can, and does, have an adverse effect. A recent study published by the Department of Internal Medicine at the University of Michigan (http://www.jmir.org/2013/7/e118/) demonstrated this point. Increasing the frequency of automated (IVR) interaction with patients (e.g., weekly vs. bi-weekly contact) did not improve diagnostic information accuracy. Equally important was the finding that high frequency, high touch may be burdensome to some patients causing them to cease participating with the automated system.
The point of all this is simply that using Interactive Voice Response calls to enhance health system capability must be driven by knowing when and how to best apply IVR toolsets. IVRs are like any other tool. When used properly they can add value. However, more is not always best. Achieving the proper balance requires an understanding of your business and clinical objectives as well as an appreciation for the intended user community’s acceptance (and tolerance) of automated technologies. We regularly find ourselves involved in careful planning so that ease of use, frequency, and functionality are correct –assuring that Interactive Voice Response calls enhance health system capability rather than detract from it.