Patient experience in healthcare is a series of touchpoints. For the majority of high utilizers in healthcare, the phone is the first touch point. This – a caller’s very first experience – has the ability to make or break a business. Though technology is vital for success, not all technology is created equally, and in some cases it can be costing health systems. Different deployment strategies or features can make one technology solution thrive while another fails. Though Interactive Voice Response (IVR) systems are a foundational aspect of most contact centers and hectic call environments, Intelligent Virtual Assistants (IVAs) are the future of call management, self-service support, and staff empowerment. Let’s take a look at some of the differences between these technology solutions in healthcare, and consider what may be a better option for your health system.


Traditional IVRs are often used in health systems to avoid overwhelming operators and contact center agents with unnecessary calls. They attempt to route calls to the correct destination, and enable callers to self-serve through a menu typically navigated with touch-tone, pressing or saying certain numbers or key phrases based on the reason for their call. In practice, however, these IVRs offer long confusing menus, and are often frustrating and difficult to use, particularly for many high utilizers of healthcare. Patients don’t want robotic interactions; they want effortless interactions. In many cases, callers opt out of the IVR menu by pressing “0,” and waiting on hold even longer to get the help they need. This wastes agent and operator time and causes revenue leakage.


An IVA is a robot that provides a more real-life interaction, through some combination of AI, machine learning, and advanced speech technologies (such as NLU and NLP), to conduct natural conversations with users. With IVA, callers are able to speak normally, no longer tied to specific key words or phrases. In a hospital setting, when callers with routine requests are able to speak naturally to a system that understands what they want and quickly connects them to their final destination, live-agent effort is saved for patients who really need it. 

The Benefits of IVA for Self-Service

IVA solutions for self-service allow callers to quickly and easily find the information they need and complete tasks without waiting for assistance. When a person needs live-operator assistance, routine calls are out of the way, leaving human operators available to assist. Patients want all the benefits of quicker service, but when they need a real person for empathy or complex support, they want a human agent right away. Upgrading to an IVA allows companies to transform and enhance customer service experiences, without spending a fortune on technology. Capable of much more than basic IVR routing, IVAs are self-service applications that offer conversational experiences and can automate more tasks than an IVR. This technology is always-on, without the need for holidays, sick days or time-off. IVAs are an efficient way to ensure callers always have assistance available. 

That said, it is important to choose wisely. While a one-time software purchase may seem appealing, adopting the technology can take long periods of time that your IT team just doesn’t have. Enterprise directory will also degrade over time, and it is unlikely internal IT or access center teams have the time to synthesize and maintain an authoritative data directory. Up-to-date, trustworthy data is necessary in order to automate and offload more and more calls over time. Offloading management of the technology to an expert team who will take responsibility for compiling, maintaining, and tuning your directory database and guarantees performance, saves your company effort and money.

By Dan Heer