IVR systems have proven very effective at helping call centers reduce the number of calls that live agents need to handle. In effect, IVRs act as a first-contact call agent.
A study by the University of New Mexico College of Pharmacy shows that an IVR solution can apply to poison centers, as well. In much the same way as it does for call centers, an IVR can help process calls so the poison center can get by with fewer specialists on hand to field calls.
It’s a fairly common cost/benefit problem, and poison centers aren’t immune from having to decide what makes sense for them fiscally as well as what makes sense for providing services.
It’s kind of the same scenario for poison centers as it is for call centers. No matter what, they need to staff a certain number of live agents. But the implications are very different. In this case, those agents are specialists with expertise upon which people are relying for their health or even lives.
The University of New Mexico study—Interactive Voice Response Systems for Medication Identification Requests: Poison or Cure?—set out to discover the advantages and disadvantages to implementing IVR solutions at poison centers.
At the heart of the study was medical identification requests (MIRs) and whether applying IVRs to that task provides a benefit to poison centers.
According to the study, MIRs are somewhat controversial—some centers refuse the practice, often citing “manpower or ethical concerns as the primary reasons for not processing the inquiries.”
As far as ethical concerns and MIRs go, centers may refuse to identify medications so they’re not breaching a patient’s confidentiality or enabling a substance abuser. (You know, a guy calls asking what a pill is, hoping it’s the narcotic he wants to use to get high.)
But for those centers that do provide MIRs (presumably to help parents identify a pill their daughter just took and the like), the specialists on hand to take the calls may be overburdened with calls to provide immediate, necessary care.
Stay tuned for the study results in Poison or Cure?…