It is necessary to have written policies that will guide your CIS program. The policies cover topics ranging from what hours your service will be open to how information specialists will handle difficult calls, from how to maintain confidentiality to how to handle physician referrals.
- Data Collection and Evaluation
- Confidentiality Privacy and Data Collection
- Evaluation and Quality Management
- Call Monitoring and Evaluating Text-based Responses
It is good practice to have a regular schedule for updating and checking policies.
Most CIS programs have found that they need disclaimers that will be given to the client to explain the scope of the service. The disclaimers can include information about staff members not being physicians and about the confidentiality of the service. Some services have a very limited number of disclaimers, while others have a more extensive range.
Take a look at the Sample Disclaimer Statement in the CIS Toolbox for more details on how disclaimers work and why CIS staff may need to use them.
Data Collection and Evaluation
Data collection and evaluation are important components of any CIS. They can help you run a quality program and help demonstrate the impact of the service on the public.
Data have many uses. They can help in:
- managing your service
- ensuring quality
- reporting to your organization
- identifying needs for developing new materials
- tracking trends, gaps, and audiences
- comparing your service with other CIS programs
- portraying the scope of service
- planning and following promotional efforts
- creating new areas of service
- defending your program and your budget
- creating evidence-based presentations to funders, sponsors, and the public
- fostering communications research
Minimum Data Set
There is a minimum data set that is essential for any CIS. Documentation for each call should include:
- type of caller (e.g., cancer patient, family/friend, general public, health professional)
- type of cancer
- subject of inquiry (e.g., treatment, emotional support, home care)
- how caller found out about the CIS
Many ICISG members have been collecting data for several years and can advise you on data collection.
Confidentiality Privacy and Data Collection
A CIS is a confidential service. Clients should have confidence that within the laws of the country you are practicing in, any information given to you will be kept confidential. In some countries there may be exceptional circumstances were confidentiality can be broken, usually this would be in situations where a client discloses information that indicates they or someone else will come to harm or in situations such as bomb or terrorist threats.
You should only record personal identifiable information (name, date of birth, address or hospital ID number) if there is a good reason too. If you are intending to routinely record any personal identifiable information about clients, you will need to consult local legislation on data protection and put the appropriate safeguards in place.
In many countries, if you intend to pass on any personal information about clients (e.g. for fundraising purposes), you need to seek their consent and record this.
Along with information you proactively collect about clients, email inquiries and conversations on social media may also contain identifiable information so you’ll need to consider how to ensure that this information is adequately protected.
Keep the identifiable information you record about enquirers to a minimum. If you don’t need to know something, don’t ask or record it.
Evaluation and Quality Management
Two major types of evaluation have been done by CIS programs: process and outcome. Each has a unique role in managing a CIS. Together, process and outcome evaluations will tell you how your program is functioning and why.
Process evaluation takes place during the implementation of a program and monitors the functioning of the program. You use process evaluation to monitor and adjust your activities to meet your objectives. Keeping call logs and records of call details will help in achieving the goals of process evaluation.
Outcome evaluation determines the effectiveness of the program. Customer satisfaction surveys are an example of outcome evaluation. The ICISG has compiled 10 basic questions that cancer information services can use to judge the satisfaction of their users. These questions are adaptable to all information delivery channels—e-mail, telephone, Web site, mail, newsletter, or instant messaging.
The CIS Toolbox has samples of two different customer satisfaction surveys that can be given to clients after services have been provided. The Telephone Service Satisfaction Survey is a somewhat general questionnaire for those clients who called the CIS; it has also been adapted into an Email Service Satisfaction Survey for clients who reached out for help online.
Call Monitoring and Evaluating Text-based Responses
All CIS programs have some form of call monitoring as part of their quality service plans. Call monitoring offers distinct benefits for improving service, including:
- ensuring overall excellence of service delivery
- identifying needs for skills development
- identifying training or continuing education needs
- recognizing procedures that are not well applied or are no longer appropriate
- spotting bad habits in communication skills
Call monitoring can take various forms. It usually starts with the monitoring of new information specialists and continues periodically as staff becomes more experienced. Call monitoring can be time-consuming and uncomfortable for both the information specialist and the supervisor. Before monitoring begins, make sure that both parties share objectives and expectations. It is important to specify what is being monitored, to stress that different styles are respected, and to listen to more than one call so that trends can be observed.
CIS programs have used a variety of approaches and tools for call monitoring. Most monitor for:
- caller satisfaction
- appropriateness of needs assessment
- accuracy of information provided
- courtesy and support by information specialist
- adherence to policies and procedures
It is important to provide immediate feedback when monitoring calls. The person monitoring the call should:
- check the perception of the information specialist and discuss the call
- reinforce strong points, and identify areas for improvement.
Call monitoring is a tool for coaching and improving performance, not for reprimanding or placing blame. Monitoring can take the form of listening to calls in real time or analysing recordings of calls. No matter which method is used, it is good practice to inform the caller. This could be through clear information in publicity materials or, on with a recorded announcement before telephone enquirers gets to speak to the helpline worker or through the helpline worker verbally seeking permission from the caller.
If you are not sure how to measure call quality in a consistent way, in the CIS Toolbox you can view the Call Monitoring form that Cancer Council Victoria uses with their own staff as an example of a quality control measure. Having a quality measurement of some sort will help your CIS to spot trends in the strengths and weaknesses of your staff training as well as track changing needs in your client population.
Similar principles apply to monitoring the quality of written responses to inquiries (emails, online chat and social media posts). Some CIS check all written responses to inquiries before they are sent. With live written evaluation tool online chats, this would slow the interaction. In this situation it may be sufficient for a supervisor to sample written records of chats from time to time.
In the CIS Toolbox you will find a Checklist for Writing Quality Emails that can be used by a CIS as an email auditing tool. Using some sort of quality control metrics will help ensure that you are providing thorough and consistent responses to your clients’ written and emailed questions.