VA awards contract for health benefits call center

VA awards contract for health benefits call center

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By William Jackson

GCN Staff

The Veterans Affairs Department has awarded a five-year, $20 million contract to Condor Technology Solutions Inc. of Annapolis, Md., to run a national call center for veterans' health benefit questions.

The competitive contract follows an emergency procurement under which Condor brought up a Veterans Health Administration call center last July. The new contract adds
e-mail replies and interactive voice response to existing services.

The national center, operated at a Condor facility in Langhorne, Pa., with the toll-free number 877-222-8387, complements services offered by call centers and help lines at many of VA's 1,100 health care facilities. Condor also operates call centers for the Defense Department's Health Affairs Office and the Air Force Reserve.

Word up

VHA set up the centralized call facility in response to the Veterans Health Care Eligibility Reform Act of 1996, which called for streamlining benefits delivery.

'Our challenge was to get the word out to 26 million vets,'' said Kent Simonis, VHA director of health administration services. The urgency of establishing a system to answer questions about benefits and eligibility was compounded by public misinformation.

'One of the catalysts for creating a call center was an Internet rumor,'' Simonis said. The rumor said veterans who did not file for benefits by Oct. 1, 1998, would forfeit certain rights they had earned.

So far, the call center's 300 agents have fielded more than 275,000 inquiries. A dedicated core of agents can be supplemented as traffic demands. VA trains all the agents to handle crisis calls, said Mike Louden, vice president and general manager of Condor's federal division.

The agents use a two-part knowledge management system that combines information about the callers with VA program information and scripted answers for many questions.

Caller data and system use trends are compiled in a database management and access system from Broadbase Information Systems Inc. of Menlo Park, Calif. VA officials consult the information through a Web portal established by Condor. Call agents get program information and scripted answers to questions from a proprietary database that receives daily additions and new scripts developed in response to question trends.

The original program information database was put together in eight, 20-hour days, Simonis said. In a year it has nearly tripled in size. If very specific information is needed, a caller can transfer to one of the VA health care facilities.

VA and Condor officials track system performance, follow question trends and develop new answers through the Web portal.

'It's worked better than I thought it could,'' Simonis said. VHA plans to distribute the program information on a set of performance management CD-ROMs for use at each health care facility. Later a VHA intranet site will give employees access to the same information.

Condor is automating an e-mail feature to bounce back answers to e-mailed questions. Later this year, the company plans to add new options to the interactive voice response front end that fields calls with recorded prompts.

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