First point of contact: How the PAC is handling off-the-charts call volume

Like nearly every division of UI Health Care, the daily efforts of the Patient Access Center (PAC) have dramatically changed since the start of COVID-19.

Ordinarily, the PAC mainly functions as the first stop for patients wanting to schedule a primary care appointment or specialty visit. Over the last two months, they’ve also helped answer questions and schedule COVID-19 vaccinations.

“We’re one of the front doors for UI Health Care,” says Neil Christiansen, patient access manager. “When folks Google our clinics, we’re the phone number that pops up, so we’re really the first point of contact for many patients.”

With the arrival of COVID-19 in Iowa in March 2020, the PAC’s workload was quickly under the strain of added call volumes as patients worked to schedule telemedicine appointments.

Prior to the pandemic, the PAC fielded around 140,000 calls per month, then reached a peak of nearly 190,000 calls during a surge in COVID-19 cases in July. Now, the PAC routinely handles more than 150,000 calls per month.

A quick pivot

With such a dramatic increase in call volume, it’s natural to wonder how the PAC has been able to keep up. According to Christiansen, the first step was a redesigned workflow.

“We reallocated staff from our central access services team and pulled them off their day-to-day tasks,” says Christiansen. “We also altered some of our schedules to help us handle the incoming call volume.”

As call volumes continued to grow, hospital leadership approved the reassignment of select staff and Christiansen and the PAC put their training plan in motion.

Christiansen recently received an Access Champion Award through the Patient Access Collaborative, an international benchmarking group for academic medical centers.

“When reassigned staff join our team, we set up half days of classroom-style trainings,” says Christiansen. “Then, we offer them a full day of observation time with one of our specialty schedulers so they really feel comfortable before jumping in.”

Playing the part

Not only has their work been impactful, says Christiansen, but the attitude of the reassigned staff has been remarkable.

“It’s not an easy task to uproot yourself from your job and take on a new role,” says Christiansen. “They’ve all had such open minds and positive attitudes about this change. We really cannot thank them enough for their flexibility and resiliency in this really critical time for our patients and our community.  Their willingness and positivity to help through this has made all the difference.”

For Christiansen and the PAC, the driving motivation is never far away.

“The biggest inspiration comes from the reason that we all have to work this hard,” he says. “It’s for Iowa, for our community, for Johnson County, and for our kids. It’s the part we play in keeping others safe.”


  1. Neil and the PAC have been instrumental in our response to COVID. I am so proud to work alongside of them!

  2. Every time over the last year calling the PAC was a positive experience. Each time a friendly attentive person replied (promptly) and helped me with each concern and promptly got an appointment for patient or answer to a question . Huge job. Congratulations for your good work!

  3. Thank you to Student Health as well for following up with students to schedule appointments when the PAC was unable to do so on its own.

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