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For many, call centres are associated with telemarketing or internet customer service. But at the University Health Network, the stakes are much higher.
On any given day, a patient could be awaiting a procedure in Toronto General Hospital's pre-operative room - then the phone rings.
It's the Laboratory Medicine Program's (LMP) Call Centre reporting a critical value to the patient's treating clinician. The blood lab has found a low platelet count, which is an essential factor in blood clotting, and to ensure the safety of the patient, the procedure is being postponed.
This is one example of a call made by LMP's Client Services Call Centre.
Open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, the LMP Call Centre plays an essential role in ensuring patient safety at UHN.
Each day hundreds of patient samples go through UHN's Laboratory Medicine Program. When a test produces abnormal results Call Centre staff have the responsibility to inform the patient's treating healthcare provider as quickly as possible.
"Life is busier than ever at UHN," says Dr. Natasha Leighl, a medical oncologist at the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre. "In the organized chaos of our workday, it is invaluable to have a team that can report critical values quickly and accurately."
The reported results can postpone surgeries that pose a risk to patient safety, prevent the prescription of potentially harmful drugs, or simply bring to light a health concern that needs to be addressed.
"Even when we are managing other important patient issues, the Call Centre helps ensure we get the necessary information in real time," says Dr. Leighl.
Reducing preventable patient harm
Incidents such as giving information to the wrong clinician, mistaking patients, or having incorrect test values are actively prevented through a system built around accountability.
"It's really about patient safety," says Angela Ejumudo, Call Centre Representative. "Sometimes it may seem frustrating to nurses and physicians when we ask questions to verify we're speaking to the right person, but it's a mandatory safety requirement.
"We have physicians with the same name, patients with the same name, and sometimes the names on the records don't match the names people go by. It is crucial - for patient safety - for us to confirm everything."
For Call Centre staff this involves having the nurse or treating physician read back the patient's full name, Medical Record Number, and the critical value being reported.
Incoming calls to the LMP Call Centre are generally from UHN or other partner healthcare providers. It may be a physician looking for information on testing, a nurse checking on lab results, or an external site in need of immediate assistance from LMP's on-call medical and scientific staff.
Requests add up quickly, and Call Centre representatives can find themselves taking 300 calls or more daily.
"Whether we're answering direct calls, returning pages and voicemails, documenting information, or troubleshooting in the LIS (Lab Information System)– there isn't much down time," says Angela.
Rosetta Belcastro, Manager of Clinical Research and Client Services, says she's humbled by the quality and quantity of work accomplished in the Call Centre each day.
"I look to our Call Centre staff as an incredible resource, with a great understanding of hospital processes," she says.
Positive start to 2016
Late last year the Call Centre moved into a new, larger space at Toronto General Hospital, where all staff can now be comfortably accommodated.
"Working in the right environment makes it that much easier for staff to maximize their abilities," says Rosetta, one of the driving forces in organizing the relocation.
Already, the new environment is leading to increased call volumes, enhanced work flow, and improved team morale.
"It just feels better," says Angela. "And when staff feel better they're more motivated to be better."