Rethinking Health Care: How Can We Improve Customer Service?
When do companies start to care about customer service? When they have to.
That may sound cynical, but let’s face it: customer service is an expense and a challenge. Industries where it doesn’t play much of a role don’t want or need to grapple with its complexities.
Banking used to be that way—it is such a compliance-oriented industry that banks are restricted from doing things that other companies might consider a routine part of customer service. In fact, according to Jim Collins’ book “Good to Great,” Wells Fargo’s strategic positioning statement is to run a bank like a business. That may sound odd, but if you understand the myriad of ways that banks don’t work like traditional businesses, it is pretty spot on. In part, it means to be more customer-centric. Consider the phrase “banker’s hours.” Good for the banker, not so good for the customer.
Health care has traditionally been run for the benefit of the organizations who provide care, not for those to whom care is provided. Can you imagine a health center where the needs of the patient are put first? Where you don’t feel like a walking diagnosis? Actually, it exists in Mayo Clinic. That organization has adopted patient-centric care, where doctors work together for the total health solution. In fact, Mayo’s “primary value” as listed online is “The needs of the patient comes first.” The hospital’s mission is to inspire hope and contribute to health and well-being by providing the best care to every patient through integrated clinical practice, education and research.
By contrast, take my doctor’s office. I typically make my health checkups early in the year—that includes my dermatologist, my GP and my oncologist. I am grateful that all three appointments are behind me, but given they all occurred in a relatively short time span, there were some interesting commonalities. All three of my doctors were at least 30 minutes late, and two of them were closer to an hour. None of their front-desk personnel provided an explanation or apology. When questioned, they seemed irritated and said they were just running a little behind. To me, 10 to 15 minutes is a little behind. An hour late is inconsiderate.
At one office, as part of a conversion to Electronic Health Records, they required all of their patients to fill out all new forms, and to sign a statement that we understood we were to show up early, call if we were late and reschedule if we needed to at least 24 hours ahead because it was disrespectful of others otherwise. Yet, I waited an hour with no one mentioning why or apologizing about it. Double standard? Apparently.
As all of us are required to pay more and get less from the health care system, there will be more demands placed on the health care system as consumers stretch their health care dollar. There will be doctors who get it and insist that their practices do. Patient health comes first, but patient care is an important part of it.
Systems need to be developed that:
- Keep appointments running smoothly and on time. (I recommend that doctors batch their “easy” patients together—like post-treatment oncology patients—and more complex patients on other days. OR assign different amounts of time for different kinds of appointments, like in a hair salon.)
- Communicate with any patient waiting longer than 15 minutes and apologize—be accountable.
- If running more than an hour behind, call the patient and offer a chance to reschedule or alert them to come in an hour later.
- Don’t ask for the same records and information every time a patient comes in. Ideally, send paperwork in advance to be filled out at home
- Further, doctors communicate with the other doctors—which is what the Mayo Clinic means by integrated clinical practice.
What would you like to see changed about health care? If you don’t like the way your health care is provided, speak up and be counted. It is the way change begins.