Quarantine, isolation, pandemic, social distancing, face masks, ventilators, disinfection, death, recovery…
These are the buzzwords that the world has been listening to for the past couple of months and they’re also become commonplace as we adapt to the new normal.
However, adapting to the new normal is often related to the fear of seeking medical help because people are just too afraid of being infected.
The Portuguese Government has a service in the Department of Health that greatly minimizes this fear: SNS 24, the contact center for the Portuguese National Health Service.
It acts as a remote screening process to avoid unnecessary visits to hospital ERs and more recently used for COVID 19 triage too.
The contact center works 24x7x365 and is used by all Portuguese citizens and foreigners living in Portugal. It has psychologists, nurses, and doctors as contact center staff that help citizens with health related questions, namely COVID 19, to keep them from rushing to and filling hospitals.
Paula – the nurse
I’ve been working at the SNS 24 contact center for 5 years. And throughout the development of the pandemic I’ve had mixed feelings and bad and good days, just like everyone else.
On one hand, I’m very proud to be part of the of the group that is at the forefront of this war and feels that all the reasons that led me to become a nurse are becoming truer than ever.
On the other hand, I have 2 children and my heart almost comes out of my chest every time I come home from another endless shift at the hospital, fearing for my children’s health and wellbeing.
Regular schedules are but a dream, I know at what time my shift begins, but never when will it end. Additionally, the psychological factor is weighing in a lot more than I would like to. Never in my +20-year career have I been subject to so much pressure, shortage of supplies, and death.
The shift is over and now it’s time to another challenge: the SNS 24 contact center. However, what previously sometimes felt as a burden, as I signed up for it as a way to get an extra income, now feels like a breath of fresh air.
Don’t get me wrong, still deal with the problem, and COVID 19 is always present; but here, I don’t have deal with face masks, scrubs, protections of all sorts and kinds. At the contact center I find a sense of normalcy in an upside down world: I can just be a nurse and do what I know best: care for my patients and advise them on the best line of treatment.
The government’s state of emergency that sent all of those who could to remote working added a very unexpected, yet pleasant surprise! I now take SNS 24 calls from home and crossed fear of getting infected with COVID 19 at the contact center from my list of worries.
All I have to do is sit down, turn on my computer, log in to the SNS 24 application and immediately start receiving calls.
I’m still confined inside of a room in my own house, but the voices of my kids in the contiguous room and their laughter give me enough strength to keep going… answering calls and working endless hospital shifts.
Alex – the deaf patient
I was born deaf. That fact is a problem to most part of people, but not to me. I’m used to work harder than other people to overcome obstacles and have lived a pretty normal life up until now.
Like everyone else I’m quarantined at home, I just go out to keep my volunteer work of distributing meals to the homeless twice a week. However, I’ve just started feeling unwell and am afraid of going to a hospital to see what is going on.
There would be no problem if I went to a regular doctor’s appointment because I could read the doctor’s lips and talk back at him. Being deaf never stopped me from being independent.
However, due to COVID 19 pandemic, before going to the hospital I´m required to call SNS 24, just like everyone else.
Only I´m not everyone else and I can’t call for obvious reasons: I’m quarantined in my own house without access to a sign language translator to make the call for me!
How am I supposed to get in touch with SNS 24 to receive the medical attention that I needs? It’s at times like these that I feel that services are not inclusive and feel left out!
Until now! I just read on the news that SNS 24 is now accessible to deaf citizens.
Curious I go to their website and confirm it! It’s as easy as pressing a button to start a video chat. I have a sign language translator to bridge the communication with the nurse. I press the button and go through the screening process with the help of the translator.
It turns out my symptoms are COVID 19. The nurse explains all the process and after receiving all the information I am cleared on what I need to do and act to be a part of the statistics of those who recovered!
Joana – the doctor
I’ve been a doctor for 5 years. The motivation and adrenaline rush I feel every time I go in the hospital is something that I cannot explain, and every time I do it still feels like the first time! I’ve wanted to be a doctor ever since I can remember, and the ER is the one of the few places in the world where I’m most happy!
I love making a difference in people’s lives and thrive on the successful cases of patients that I get to send home safe and sound.
Life was perfect, until COVID 19 turned it completely upside down.
The motivation and adrenaline are slowly giving place to tiredness and despair. Where once was joy and normalcy there’s now endless intubation of terrified patients and endless runs through crowded hallways in search of clean equipment.
I can’t stop thinking about the difficulties that I experienced when I volunteered to work in a developing country. There was shortage of everything, including medical supplies, but at least there, I didn’t have to gear like an astronaut to protect myself from an invisible enemy: a virus!
Before starting the shift I must gear up with a mask, a face shield, cap, gloves, feet and neck protections hence the why I thinks of astronauts!
Keeping myself busy is indeed the best way to not think the misery that surrounds me during every single shift, it’s like I turn on an automation mode, set aside all feelings, and focus only on being the best doctor I can.
However, I’m also a human being and also need to wind down and get some rest! Unlike many of my colleagues at the hospital, I do not have children and live alone. Like the rest of the population I’m obliged to social distancing and cannot visit my family or hang out with my friends. Those times stuck at home waiting for the next shift are the hardest!
How did I cope?
With more work, only of a different kind! I volunteered to answer SNS 24 doctor’s line for COVID 19 pandemic.
I log in to the application from my mobile phone and immediately start getting calls transferred by the contact center nurse. All I have to do is look at the information gathered by the nurse, talk to the patient to help me make the diagnostic, and decide whether to send the patient to the hospital or prescribe medicine and let the patient recover in the comfort of home.
The best thing? I can do all of it without a single mask, scrub, cap, and so on! I actually find these phone calls very comforting and see it as a balance between being a regular doctor and a “war zone” doctor when I´m back at the hospital.
These calls are the oxygen that I needs to keep going until all this is over and I can think of my next adventure: climbing the Kilimanjaro!
Daniel – the patient
Argh! I’ve been feeling a really strange noise in my left ear for a few days now, and it just keeps getting worse. It came to a point where I cannot even sleep properly anymore.
I tried to call and schedule an appointment with my doctor but the non urgent medical practices have all been closed down due to the COVID 19 pandemic.
I’ve been in quarantine at home for 32 days now, it makes no sense, and I´m very scared to leave the house and go to the hospital. It’s as if I voluntarily move from a paradise to the epicenter of a war zone!
But I really need to see a doctor, or risk going mad from the noise coming out of my ear! Let me call SNS 24 to see if they can help me in any way!
It’s really easy: I call, talk to a nurse and he told me that me that someone from my local health center will get in touch with me. After 2 hours, I get a call from my family assigned doctor asking what me is going on.
During the consultation by phone, I explain the situation and the doctor easily identifies what the problem is. It turns out it can be quickly solved with medication.
The doctor prescribes the medication and sends the prescription to my phone. I immediately forward it to my neighborhood pharmacy and 2 hours later they deliver it at my doorstep.
After taking the medication and having lunch, I’m pain free, enjoying again the paradisiac, and safe, environment of my own living room while holding a meeting with my co-workers!
Altitude Software, together with Altice Portugal, proudly stand behind SNS 24 contact center technology. Our software allowed all the people described above to their job and solve their health problems respecting confinement rules for not putting themselves and others at risk.
SNS 24 is a very good example of a Responsive Contact Center for healthcare. This exceptional situation demanded exceptional measures to face the daily technical requirements, from handling the exponential number of calls, to mobile apps for doctors to take calls from anywhere or make the contact center inclusive for all citizens.
Are you a healthcare provider? Is your contact center for healthcare responsive? If not, we can help you!