National Cancer Institute Awards Fred Hutch $24 Million for Contact Center

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“We are constantly adapting to meet people’s information-seeking needs. The sophistication of our clients has certainly increased over time.”
— Nancy Gore

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THE NATIONAL CANCER INSTITUTE (NCI) has awarded $24 million to Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center (Fred Hutch) to continue operating the NCI’s primary public access point for cancer information in both English and Spanish. With the new contract, the Contact Center will emphasize clinical trial education and referrals, increasing outreach to medically underserved populations and integrating innovative communication technologies. 

“We are constantly adapting to meet people’s information-seeking needs,” said Nancy Gore, Director of the Contact Center, which provides free phone and online help to cancer patients and their families. “The sophistication of our clients has certainly increased over time because of what they’ve been able to access and read online about their conditions before contacting us. Now they often need to know how or whether specific information applies to their case, and that’s where we are able to provide additional context and education, including questions to take back to their health-care provider to help further their understanding.” 

Ms. Gore has worked at the Contact Center at Fred Hutch for 23 years and manages a team of about 65 employees, including cancer information specialists who answer inquiries and oncology-certified nurses who provide technical assistance on interactions and are members of the training team for new staff. 

Sole Operator Since 2009 

The NCI originally established contact centers at several NCI-designated cancer centers throughout the country; the first call was taken in 1976. The Contact Center at Fred Hutch joined this effort in 1981 and eventually became the sole operator in 2009, when the National Cancer Institute consolidated existing operations into a single Contact Center. 

The group handled close to 92,000 inquiries this past year—48% by phone and 43% by live chat. Although the number of calls has decreased over time—a trend seen at other contact centers—questions through the live-chat option are on the rise. The Fred Hutch team also responds to questions through e-mail, which makes up 8% of inquiries. A sliver of inquiries, 1%, come through social media. 

With the newly awarded 3-year contract, the team at Fred Hutch will also be looking at other ways to have a greater impact. They are planning to work with the National Cancer Institute to explore health communications research studies on how to better impact callers’ health. For instance, later this summer, Fred Hutch smoking cessation researchers will begin a phone intervention conducted by the information specialists targeting long-time smokers who are being screened for lung cancer. 

The service can be reached Monday through Friday, 9 AM to 9 PM EST, by calling 1.800.4.CANCER (800-422-6237), through online live chat or by e-mail on the NCI’s website ■