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Effective COVID-19 Testing Operations Require Equally Effective Infrastructures

3 Things Government Technology Responders Must Know

In mid-March, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) began setting up 47 federally facilitated community-based testing sites for COVID-19. We’ve all seen the footage; lines of people waiting to be tested from their cars, medical personnel standing at the ready in parking lots.

At the same time, the federal government and local public health offices were quickly trying to gear up for the overwhelming onslaught of demands for information – “what do I need to know about this disease?” “where do I get tested?” and “how and when do I get my results?” An efficient process that could be stood up quickly on an effective telephony platform, with experienced personnel, secure storage for sensitive data, and a system to track who had been tested and communicated with was needed – yesterday.  This would allow the public health offices to focus their attention on controlling the spread of the disease.

While public health officials have stated that one of the keys to combatting the spread of COVID-19 is testing and tracing – and it is most certainly needed and essential – it’s easy to overlook key questions that need to be answered when implementing large-scale support operations for test results across the states. 

Take these few examples:

  • When results need to be communicated to people who have been tested, how will you do that? 
  • How will you craft a patient intake form so you’re capturing all the necessary information?
  • How will you maintain the security of that testing data and those notifications? 
  • What is the protocol for how frequently you’ll call tested individuals if you can’t reach them? 
  • How will you find and train call center technicians to use call center equipment, communicate results, and answer questions? 
  • What is the best way to setup a call center in a socially distanced environment? 
  • What security protocols need to be in place for call center agents working remotely to protect patient data?
  • And as the situation continually evolves, can you evolve with it – changing protocols, expanding or constricting operations, or rerouting resources where they’re needed most? 

A partner who has thought through these types of questions – and who is nimble enough to identify entirely new considerations that come with unprecedented situations like the one we’re in now – is precisely the kind of partner that governments at the federal, state, and local level need to have on their side.

It’s one thing to have innovative technology solutions. It’s entirely something else to deploy them in ways that solve problems – and that prevent new ones from arising. 

When Maximus set up multiple virtual call centers within five days as part of the HHS’s historic response to the coronavirus pandemic, we applied decades of knowledge about call center best practices and crisis logistics. Here are three areas that stood out:

1. Security, security, security 

We hired 250 people in six days. These were mostly pre-vetted candidates with call center experience. We had the bench of people to turn to that were ready to help. We also rolled out cloud-based virtual desktops to call center agents so they could work remotely. These Desktop-as-a-Service (DaaS) solutions offer a secure system for our agents, as well as the means to monitor, supervise, and control access, protecting the privacy and security of patients and their confidential information. 

2. Be a partner with the right partners

In conjunction with the DaaS implementation, we also worked with Genesys, a leading provider of technology solutions for contact centers. The combination of their technology platform and the Maximus operational framework ensures that all calls are outbound, secured, and of the highest sound quality.

3. Understand the mission (deeply)

One of the things that any government contractor will tell you is that they’re committed to their customer’s mission. (You’d better be, right?) But when you truly understand the mission, you can empower your people to fulfill it in meaningful ways. We’ve managed call centers for FEMA after hurricanes, and currently operate call centers that answer 1-800-Medicare calls. For any citizen who turns to the government for benefits, they want and deserve to hear the voice of an empathetic and supportive individual on the other end of the line. On the HHS COVID-19 results call center project, our people were communicating critical test results to patients. A negative was a sigh of relief; a positive would certainly cause serious concerns and be possibly life-threatening. That’s why we took careful time to craft scripts that were both compassionate and informative. We trained our call center agents to deliver results with care because it should not be any other way. 

In a crisis, we are often met with a task that seems insurmountable and a set of tools that seem insufficient. Rising to such a clarion call requires having the right tools, the right partners and the right approach poised to make a moment of tragedy a moment of triumph. Dynamic situations are served best by dynamic solutions.