• February 1, 2014
  • By Leonard Klie, Editor, CRM magazine and SmartCustomerService.com

IVR Is the Right Prescription for a Native American Health System

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Due to the rapid growth of healthcare needs across its Native American population, pharmacy personnel at the Muscogee Creek Nation Department of Health couldn't effectively manage its increasing call volume.

Up until about a year ago, pharmacy workers at the tribal health system, which operates two hospitals and six clinics across a 12-county area south of Tulsa, Okla., couldn't answer all of the calls coming in during the day, with many customers having to leave messages. Callers after hours had to leave messages that then had to be tackled each morning. Over the weekend, the system often maxed out, and many who called couldn't even leave messages at all.

In addition to the volume of messages, which could number 40 or more on any given day, pharmacy personnel struggled with messages that were often hard to understand, requiring them to call back the party to verify information.

"We were just getting inundated with calls. It was an administrative nightmare," recalls Robert Coffey, chief information officer at the Muscogee Creek Nation Department of Health. "It was so much work just for a simple prescription refill."

Thanks to an interactive voice response (IVR) system from Enacomm, Muscogee Creek has been able to tame unmanageable call volumes and voicemails. That IVR solution, which went live about a year ago, now every week processes more than 5,000 prescription refill requests that previously would have been handled manually. The average call covers roughly five prescription medicines, and the system handles each without a hitch, according to Coffey.

"Enacomm's real-time prescription-ordering solution greatly enhances the customer ordering experience," added Sid Daniel, administrator of the Muscogee Creek Department of Health, in a statement.

"We're processing far more requests than I anticipated. Enacomm's IVR solution is...a game-changer."

The hosted solution is available 24/7 to automatically collect, validate, and submit prescription refill requests directly into Muscogee Creek's ProPharma pharmacy management system. This has saved the local pharmacies hundreds of personnel hours each month in voicemail transcribing and data entry, according to Daniel.

The IVR provides the operating hours for each of the pharmacies, and callers can even enter their addresses to have prescriptions mailed to them instead of having to pick them up. Though a small percentage of callers actually do this, they can also transfer to speak to live pharmacy personnel.

In addition to providing the IVR prompts in English, the Muscogee Creek Nation in July added prompts and menus that support the native Creek language. Between 10 percent and 20 percent of the 77,000 members of the Muscogee Creek Nation use this option. Enacomm can support 32 languages with its IVR technology. Designing the IVR in the Creek language, though, "was a big effort," Coffey says, because tribe members wanted to get it right. " Some of our elders still only speak our language. We also want this for future generations. We're trying hard to keep our language going strong."

The Muscogee Creek Nation Department of Health is also trying to keep the tribe going strong and healthy. With an annual budget of nearly $85 million, the department offers services in pediatrics, family medicine, nursing, dentistry, radiology, behavioral health, emergency medicine, audiology, nutrition, physical therapy, and optometry, as well as laboratory and pharmacy services. It never requires Native Americans--whether they belong to the Muscogee Creek tribe or other tribes around the country--to pay a dime out of pocket.

It previously worked with Enacomm on another IVR that it used to help tribe members with diabetes manage their condition and get rewards for certain behaviors known to control the symptoms of diabetes. Members called in to report steps they took, such as walking for so many minutes a day, and racked up points that could be redeemed for purchases in one of the pharmacies, for example.

The department is looking now to use the IVR as a springboard for other programs as well, Coffey says. Among the initiatives under way is the creation of text and smartphone apps for submitting prescription refill requests. Coffey hopes to be able to launch those apps in a few months.

The Payoff

The IVR that Enacomm created for the Muscogee Creek Nation Department of Health has:

  • fielded more than 5,000 prescription refills per week that would have previously been handled manually;
  • saved local pharmacies hundreds of personnel hours each month in voicemail transcribing and data entry; and/p>
  • lowered the number of calls that need to be transferred to live pharmacy employees.

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