The Importance of Customer Service in the Healthcare Industry

The need for healthcare organizations to be profitable drives the industry to enhance the participation of physicians and other caregivers, to stay abreast of technology and cutting edge changes to stay competitive and to innovate in cutting operational costs.

Where does patient satisfaction and the necessity of providing “world class service” fall into this?  Does the healthcare industry truly feel that patients have a choice in where they seek care? As the Affordable Care Act implementation gets underway with its associated expansion in patient choice, customer service and satisfaction will continue to be a priority for all providers. The Agency for Healthcare Research & Quality reminds that, “CAHPS surveys ask patients to report on their experiences with a range of health care services at multiple levels of the delivery system.”  These surveys ask about the patient’s experience with ambulatory care providers, such as health plans and physicians’ offices, and others ask about experiences with care delivered in facilities such as hospitals and nursing homes. The disincentives for lower than optimal satisfaction scores will continue to escalate, so regardless of the payor, every provider needs a solid customer service program in order to survive.

James Merlino, MD, Chief Experience Officer at Cleveland Clinic, says it well, “Patients are made to feel that, because healthcare is a necessity rather than a luxury, they aren’t entitled to a superior patient experience. And this is probably the biggest mistake our industry makes.” The question becomes where to start and the answer is: in Human Resources. The HR team’s plans and policies must ensure that new hires understand that this is the core of the business.  A few musts to achieving this are: 

• Hiring the right people.
• Informing employees from the start what you expect from them and reinforce it routinely.
• Consistent training.
• Monitoring your employees’ performance.
• Holding staff accountable.
• Rewarding superior performance.
• Monitoring patient feedback and setting benchmarks. 

One last suggestion is to involve the entire organization in the results of patient feedback and reward excellent performance for attaining predetermined goals. Imagine a scenario where every employee in your facility is invested in this goal, and that any patient walking through your facility is greeted with a smile and kind word by every single employee with whom he or she comes into contact.  That’s world class service. 

Every business’s success rests on its customers and in the ability to develop them into repeat customers who “spread the word.” The core of this mandate must be rooted in our talent pool and supported by management in order to succeed.

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