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Celebrating our frontline workers, serving patients’ health needs every day

By Anthony Alvarez, Vice President, Customer Operations, Cardinal Health at-Home Solutions

Customer Service Week is an annual celebration of the people who serve and support customers every day. At Cardinal Health at-Home Solutions, my team of 1,600 customer operations professionals demonstrate their commitment and passion for customer service all throughout the year; during this special week, I want to shine a light on the important work they do.

at-Home Solutions is a market-leading medical supplies provider that serves people with chronic and serious health conditions across the U.S. Through the work of our at-Home Solutions team, a patient may receive their medical supplies directly from us or through an in-the-home care provider (e.g., a home health nurse). If we’re shipping supplies directly to a patient’s home, a prescription written by a physician is sometimes needed, requiring us to work with the patient’s insurance company and obtain approval before shipment.

The majority of patients our customer operations team engages with have serious health issues or life-altering diagnoses, many with diabetes, ostomy and urology conditions, or special wound care needs. Some of our patients are even mothers-to-be, seeking breast pumps while navigating their pregnancy journeys. Regardless of their specific medical supply needs, patients come to us for help managing their health. How our customer service team engages with and serves our patients is critically important; we have the opportunity to ease their anxiety during sometimes stressful times and provide overall peace of mind regarding their health.

Our reach and connection to patients

Though patients can text us or send emails with their questions, most still prefer to deal directly with one of our team members via phone. Collectively, my team talks with some 650,000 patients, one-on-one, every year. We help them navigate a very complicated healthcare system, ensuring patients receive the medical products they need when they need them. It’s no exaggeration to say that this team is essential to our mission of driving better patient outcomes.

Each of our customer operations representatives must acquire deep knowledge about healthcare, health insurance and healthcare providers. They gain that knowledge through the robust training we provide, including deep dives into Medicare, Medicaid and health maintenance organizations (HMOs), preferred provider organizations (PPOs), and point-of-service plans. It’s essential our team members understand insurance premiums, deductibles and copays. They learn about regulations that govern healthcare and protect patient privacy, including the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), and the various disease states for which our medical supplies are needed. Some of the training includes lab work, where new employees listen in on calls between experienced customer service representatives and patients.

As important as our training is, our team members also need to have softer skills that are sometimes difficult to teach. They must have empathy for patients and treat them with dignity and respect. For each of our customer operations representatives, the goal is to provide an effective and positive outcome with every patient call.  

A lot of personal satisfaction comes from solving our patients’ challenges – but it’s not easy work. Each one of our team members on the front lines may talk with 50 or more people in a day. For internal support, our agents work in small, virtual groups of 10 to 20 peers, and are supervised by an experienced customer service leader who they can go to for help throughout the day. They also facilitate live, online group chats during their shifts to support one another in real-time.

Drawing energy from helping patients get the supplies they need

To help illustrate the important work these individuals do every day, and their impact on patients, I asked two of our dedicated customer ops teammates to tell me about their day-to-day work. Here’s what they had to say.

  • Tina Elmakias, senior representative, customer order management
    Patients depend on our products in order to manage their health issues. When they call, they need our help. They might be frustrated because their medical products haven’t arrived at their home on time, or they might have received a different product than what they expected. Often, this is due to a problem with approvals from their insurance company or with the paperwork from the healthcare provider.

    Lots of times, callers may not understand the complicated system of insurance, and no one has taken the time to explain to them how it works.

    Not too long ago, I received a call from a 96-year-old woman who was confused and very worried about her medical supplies. Her order for ostomy pouches did not arrive on time and she was running out of pouches at home. When I reviewed her order, I found that it included more than 15 different products other than the pouches. Those additional products had not yet been okayed by her insurance provider, so her entire order was held up. I was able to put the pouches into a separate order and ensure her pouches were delivered within two days.

    I felt like she and I formed a bond by the time we ended our conversation, and that’s the way I like to end every phone call with a patient. It’s an amazing feeling to know I’ve solved someone’s problem. I love being a patient advocate and helping people live the best lives they possibly can. It’s something I want to keep doing for a long time.

  • Corey Stewart, specialist, customer service operations
    The best part of what I do is getting to speak with patients and take care of their problems. I recently received a call from a diabetic patient who uses continuous glucose monitor (CGM) therapy to manage his blood glucose. He was beside himself because he had an adverse reaction to the CGM sensors that his physician had prescribed, and he needed something different. But his insurance wouldn’t okay other sensors because he was six weeks out from a refill. I was able to connect with a manufacturer and secure him replacements right away through the proper channels. The patient was so relieved – he called back later and told another customer service representative that he wanted to apologize to me for being so upset.

    For eight hours a day, customers are my responsibility. For those eight hours, I do everything I can to help them. When that patient comes on the line, they’re my number one priority. I treat every patient as I would treat my mother and grandmother…I want to give them the best possible experience, and that provides me the appropriate framework to get the job done. At the end of those eight hours, my focus becomes my wife and my son until the next workday – and that time away refuels me to deliver the best customer experience for our patients.

    The truth is, I love customer service. This work gives us so many opportunities to help people. Every day I see that what I do matters to our patients, and it’s very fulfilling.

On behalf of our entire at-Home Solutions team, thank you to Tina, Corey, and all of our customer operations representatives. We’re grateful for the work you do every day for the patients we serve. Happy Customer Service Week!

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Cardinal Health is a distributor of pharmaceuticals, a global manufacturer and distributor of medical and laboratory products, and a provider of performance and data solutions for healthcare facilities. Subscribe to our News Alerts to get all of our latest news.