Customer Service in Healthcare

Just read an article about a new web-based service called MedWaitTime that allows patients to check if their doctor is running late before heading to the office for their appointment, kind of like you can check to see if your flight is late before heading to the airport.

Brilliant.

Nothing peeves me more than sitting in a doctor’s office reading 4-month-old tattered magazines on topics I care nothing (Saltwater Fishing? Seriously?) not because the doctor had an emergency (when is the last time a dermatologist had to run out to save someone) but because the office staff routinely double books. I can’t count the number of times I walked out (my limit is 30 minutes unless I’m in agony) after giving the front office a targeted piece of my mind.

Since we’re on the topic of customer service as it applies to medicine, here are few other areas in which medical offices and their staffs could improve when it comes to customer service:

  • Get a web site and put the paperwork you need from us online. Filling out forms with a pen is so 1990s. In fact, how about letting us book appointments online? My mammography center does this and it’s so much easier than calling, going through the 5-minute voice mail, then talking to some clerk who can’t spell your name right.
  • Communicate via email. I know some doctors are doing this, and some insurance companies are even paying for it. But the vast majority do not. My own internist, whose office is completely computerized, won’t do it because, he says, he’s worried about “privacy issues.” Give me a break. there are plenty of encryption programs out there. He’s worried about getting paid for his time. Well you know what? I’m worried about getting paid for my time, too. And if I have to book an appointment to talk to you about the side effects from a drug, or express a concern over a new symptom and ask if I should come in, then I may have to find a new doctor. I have excellent health insurance; I am NOT the kind of patient you want to lose.
  • Share our test results with us. It’s my blood, my urine, my breasts. Why do I have to call and ask for the results most of the time? Don’t I have a right to know what my cholesterol is? See, if you did the email thing you could just scan in the results (or have them faxed directly into your computer) and then email them to us.
  • Find time to see us when we’re sick. If my son has a temperature of 102.5 and a sore throat, I really don’t want to go sit in the urgent care center for 3 hours because you can’t fit me in. You’re a doctor, for goodness sake; keep some slots open for, well, sick people. And if you decide to cut back to part time (as my kids’ doctor recently did) tell us so we can find another, full-time doctor; allow your partner to see us; or hire a temporary doctor.
  • Computerize your office. My son’s doctor picked upon the fact that he needed a tetanus, DPT, and rubella booster even though we were seeing her for a completely different reason because a program in her computer alerted her to the need. Doctors are always complaining that they have to deal with too much paperwork and see too many patients to make a living, but a surprisingly small number of them take advantage of technology to make their jobs–and patient care–better.
  • Respect our privacy. If I’m concerned that my son is depressed, I may not want to share that information with the clerk who answers the phone; I want to talk to you about it. Neither do I want the front desk administrator to loudly ask me when I’d like to book my colonoscopy as I’m checking out.

Where do you think medical professionals could improve their customer service?

7 Responses to “Customer Service in Healthcare”

  1. GlassHospital

    I'm with you!

    Thanks for hosting grand rounds. See you soon!

    -Dr. John (@GlassHospital)

  2. Debra

    Hi Dr. John.

    Thanks so much for posting and for the links. I love them! re: medical records, I've actually heard of some pilot programs using open records, in which the patient has as much access as the doctor (probably online). Things definitely have to change at the very basic patient/physician level.

  3. GlassHospital

    Hi. I found a link to you over at Funky Heart. The title of this post really caught my eye.

    I'm a primary care doc, and lately customer service is what I've been thinking about most.

    I was recently able to attend the first-ever Summit on Patient Experience at the Cleveland Clinic. They're leaders in customer service because their top management has made it an institutional priority.

    In fact, they've appointed a CXO-Chief eXperience Officer!

    http://glasshospital.com/2010/02/02/cxo/

    Here are a couple of posts from my experience at the Summit. See what you think:

    http://glasshospital.com/2010/05/27/road-trip/

    and

    http://glasshospital.com/2010/05/30/knock-your-sox-off-service/

    Let me know what you think!

    -Dr. John (GlassHospital)

  4. SQuinn

    The main reason physicians are reluctant to conduct a lot of routine business with patients by email is that insurance companies do not reimburse for that time. Doctors are just as frustrated about this as patients! Most of them would love to be more efficient and not waste office visit time on stuff that could easily be handled by email. However, that reduces the amount of compensated time in the office, and (unless they are among the top paid specialties) for many, that's too big a financial impact. What HAS to change is the reimbursement system (IMHO)!

  5. Star Lawrence

    One more: When you as the physician finally come into my cubicle in the ER, ask me what the matter is. Do not say, “Do you think your insurance company will pay me?” Also–don't offer to pray with me instead of tests. I found that disturbing when it happened to me.

  6. Star Lawrence

    All good. How about…When an old person comes to the ER, don't put them last automatically. And if they have, say, a dislocated shoulder, don't put off pain meds for 4 hours until “a doctor can see them.” And–in that same situation–don't say no water for an old person begging for water–surgery will not be necessary to get that shoulder back in, you know it, and how many people actually die from vomiting up a few sips of water if they DO need surgery later? All this happened to my mother. In the office, don't talk into your computer and try to make it spell–talk to the patient! If a person does not want to get weighed and is not taking a medicine based on weight and is not going on yet another “diet,” don't tell them your way or the highway. Don't copy our driver's licenses into a paper chart that floats around everywhere–where is security when you do THAT? You don't need our SS–forget it. If a patient questions a recommended treatment, don't say any variation of “Did you go to medical school?” And for God's good sakes, do not–do not–tell me of all people to “try to have positive thoughts.”

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