A ‘Lean’ Philosophy and Culture: Continuous Improvement in the Healthcare Contact Center (Part I)

In this two-part series, we take an in-depth look at RelateCare’s Continuous Improvement Division, which is dedicated to the integration of a ‘Lean’ philosophy and culture into our healthcare contact center solutions and operations.

In the first part of the series, we explore the origins and background of the Continuous Improvement Division in RelateCare, why it was developed, its purpose and aims, and how it works.

In the second part of the series (coming soon!) we take a look at the impact its hand on our client-partners through a number of case studies, and also on our internal work environment and culture.


The last year has no doubt changed the healthcare landscape dramatically, both in the USA and across the globe. The impact of COVID-19 dominated healthcare in every possible way, with ramifications for every aspect of how healthcare is delivered.

Yet the immense pressure placed on the healthcare system in the USA, while unique and unprecedented, has only served to intensify the need for healthcare systems to find ways to adapt, meet the needs of their patients, provide high quality care, and do so in the most efficient and cost-effective way possible.

RelateCare’s suite of diverse patient access and patient engagement solutions remains relevant. Supporting healthcare providers and their patients throughout the patient journey pre- and post-hospital visit. Even more so in these times, health systems must continue to create more streamlined and simplified access to care models and maximise organizational performance, whether through centralization, appointment scheduling optimization, clinical triage or patient follow-up.

Continuous Improvement Division 

To support the design and development of these innovative models of support and delivery, in 2017 RelateCare launched a Continuous Improvement Division. The CID was developed to formally apply the philosophy and methods of Lean Six Sigma both to the internal operations of RelateCare’s contact centers, but also to provide our client-partners with the expertise and advisory services necessary for them to create value in the eye of the customer, eliminate waste and improve efficiencies.

This initiative involves utilizing a comprehensive and robust set of processes to identify, analyze, document and implement a series of operational improvements at all levels of the contact center. Ultimately, the aim is to ensure that organizations are offering exceptional customer and patient experiences at all stages of the journey. Removing any unnecessary waste means that all aspects of the organizations can focus on what is necessary, on their primary purpose: providing the very best service possible to patients and customers.

The aim of the CID is to instil and promote a problem-solving culture in RelateCare using ‘Lean’ philosophy, principles, and tools in a contact centre environment to continually analyse the way we work to deliver an exceptional customer experience.

Lean Philosophy: How it Works

The RelateCare Continuous Improvement team is made of Lean Six Sigma experts, including a number of team members with a Level 8 or above Lean qualification.

The team takes the Lean methodology (which originated in manufacturing industries) and applies the thinking and execution to the Healthcare Contact Center and Patient Access operations. A constant focus on problem-solving, improvement, efficiencies and waste reduction is at its core. This approach is then used to solve everyday challenges in the contact center environment, ranging from increasing appointment scheduling accuracy, to reducing call times and boosting connection rates as well as many others.

RelateCare’s Continuous Improvement Team maintains a focus on the lean concept of creating value in the eye of the patient and putting people first.

All projects begin by listening. Listening to front-facing staff, listening to patients, and listening to management; a series of interviews and brainstorming sessions are essential to getting a better understanding of where the issues lies, and more importantly, where the opportunities lie.

Oftentimes the best problem solvers and idea generators are individuals who are on the front-line, dealing with the work.  The Continuous Improvement team are always willing to learn and listen to discover if an individual on a team has an idea about a better workflow or way of doing things. We then try to take this knowledge, formalise it, and share this process and knowledge among the wider team.

People, Process and Technology

The focus is on the three key categories: People, Process and Technology:

  • People:

In healthcare, people are often overworked and under trained, particularly in the contact center. Add to this a shortage of staffing at the right times and there is immense pressure on staff to perform. The RelateCare CID firsts listens and then works with staff to improve how they engage in their tasks. This can include onboarding, training, performance reviews, mentoring, coaching, and quality assurance feedback.

  • Process:

The healthcare contact center is a complex operational environment with many different processes working together. What is required here is a culture-change, a shift towards an attitude of continuous improvement whereby all staff are attuned to potential problems and solutions. These can include: standardized operating procedures, visible performance/reporting dashboards, revision of Key Performance Indicator targets, Optimized Workforce Planning, elimination of non-value adding activities.

  • Technology:

Healthcare organizations often invest in technology at great expense and assume that it automatically leads to improvements. However, often the impact of technology is less than anticipated. This is because there is often a disconnect between the potential impact of the technology and the processes involved in understanding the problem is supposed to solve, and also how it is implemented and how people are trained to use it. RelateCare focus on integrating technology systems with current processes and people so its benefits are leveraged as they should be.

Common issues include: introduction of new IT workflows, eliminate unrequired clicks, revamp and or creation of a knowledgebase and introduction of call performance reporting

In keeping with Lean six sigma methodologies, the team utilize structured 8-step problem solving and DMAIC (Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve and Control) approaches as appropriate to deliver its goals.

COVID Changes

Since COVID-19 we have provided additional and new support for our patients by carrying out patient tech checks for virtual visits. We have also ensured that COVID-19 protocols and guidelines are clearly communicated to our patients when we are scheduling appointments on the many COVID-19 advice lines that we support for our partners. Creating ‘value from our patients perspective’ by showing empathy and compassion is key and core to our patients quality experience.

So far, these approaches have brought significant benefits to healthcare systems in many aspects and across multiple functions including contact center operations, clinical nurse triage programs and support teams, as outlined below.

In part 2 of our series, we take a closer look at the specific impact that Continuous Improvement Division has brought to our client partners and within RelateCare.

If you would like to find out more about RelateCare’s Continuous Improvement Division and our experience in ‘Lean’ programs, please get in touch with us here: info@chrisc116.sg-host.com