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Highlights: Allegheny Health Network

Same-day appointments and online access

Customer care representatives at the computer

In autumn 2016, AHN's call center began offering same-day appointments for primary care physicians. The initiative has since been expanded to include specialists, and is part of a larger campaign to expand in-person and virtual clinical access for AHN patients.

As of 2017, when a patient connects with Allegheny Health Network's (AHN) call center, the voice on the other end now asks, "Would you like an appointment today?"

Same-day appointments for primary care physicians and many specialists are now a reality for AHN patients, the result of a year-long redesign of the AHN call center. As with all of AHN's recent operational and infrastructure investments, this one put the patient at the top of our priorities. People want same-day convenience, and AHN, with support from Highmark Health, is utilizing new technologies to meet changing patient needs.

"We want to be the system of choice in the market, and we need to develop access routes that patients see value in: Right patient, right provider, right location for care," says Kenyokee Crowell, AHN's senior vice president for Clinical Access.

"We also need to recognize and appreciate that each day our patient demographic is changing. Some patients prefer calling to arrange care. Others would prefer to schedule online appointments or e-visits."

Enhancements to AHN's call center, which fields more than a million patient requests annually, will be complemented by increased utilization of the functionality built into the Epic electronic medical records system. One of the features baked into the Epic platform is "MyChart," the online portal through which patients can access their medical records and communicate with physicians and nurses without ever making a phone call.

At AHN, getting health care right means listening to what our community wants, then investing accordingly. And what the community wanted was more specialty capacity, more convenient access, and more ways to communicate with caregivers.

That's why, all told, Highmark Health and AHN have invested hundreds of millions in the call center redesign and the Epic system, which has now been implemented at three of AHN's hospitals, all of its physician practices and most of its outpatient centers. Once Epic is fully functional, all AHN hospitals and affiliated practices will have access to the same medical records — and when health care providers have access to complete and accurate information, patients receive better, more efficient care.

"As a health care enterprise, we need to constantly be in tune with what our patients want and need from their health care delivery system," Crowell said. "It's just good business."