Several years ago I had to make a visit at an urgent care center associated with a major healthcare system in the Memphis-TN area. I was anxious and aching. I walked in to the rather drafty reception area where I was greeted by a friendly front desk clerk. The clerk smiled, made eye contact with me and showed compassion for my situation while asking for my dollars and demographics.
All told, it took an hour to the see the nurse, doctor and to fill my prescription. Pretty good for an ER-lite visit.
However, that was not the experience that made this experience go from “Good To Great!”
As I was leaving the waiting room, the nurse ran after me and said, “wait, you forgot your card.” The “card” was a thank you note signed by all of the care providers and clerks who were staffing the urgent care center that day. The card simply said, “Thank you for choosing us.” These were not Comic Sans or some other fancy script font from the latest word processing software. The card was signed with real signatures conveying my value to the real people who rendered my care and to whom I gave my money.
I often recall that experience when I think about exceptional healthcare. As consumers of healthcare services, we are slowly changing our mindset from having the decision made and paid for on our behalf, to a decision that we must make and pay for by ourselves. With greater cost sharing expectations, the responsibility rests with us to make our healthcare decisions. This is especially true as recent data shows that consumer spending on healthcare continues to rise as it relates to our other expenses (see Consumer spending on health hits another record).
The key takeaway is that the manner in which healthcare services are delivered is not business as usual. Hospitals and other providers of healthcare need to realize that the people they used to call their patients are really their customers in today’s healthcare market. Today’s consumer of healthcare is making provider selection like we do with any other consumer good or service. We seek quality, value, and service. Healthcare organizations need to take note that they must provide “CVS” care to today’s healthcare consumer: Consumer-minded Quality, Value, and Service.
Consumer-minded Quality. First and foremost, consumers of healthcare services seek quality care. The primary focus of healthcare consumers: are you going to fix my issue? While quality outcomes vary person by person, consumers rely on other indicators as a gauge of quality service:
Friendly clinical staff
Competent support staff
Timeliness of receiving services (from scheduling to actual receipt of care)
Cleanliness of the facility
Access to the facility (i.e. parking, navigating within the facility)
There are numerous quality reports that drill down into infection rates, re-admission rates, care outcomes, and other quality indicators. However, the average healthcare consumer finds these metrics overwhelming and irrelevant.
Quite frankly, those quality reports are geared toward other clinicians, researchers, and managed care companies. Consumer perception of quality healthcare services is about how a provider of care made us feel physically but most importantly, how we felt emotionally. Certainly branding and advertising play significant roles in perceived quality. Yet the best branding and advertising comes from our family, friends, and acquaintances and how those individuals felt about a hospital’s services. People make buying decisions emotionally for many products and services. Why would healthcare be any different?
Value. Though some may use quality and value interchangeably, there is one component that differentiates value from quality and that is the concept of money. With quality, consumers ask, “Am I receiving superior care?” With value, consumers ask, “Am I getting the most out of my money?” In today’s marketplace, consumers of healthcare are facing increased high deductible requirements from their health plans and an increased expectation to pay a larger share of healthcare costs.
In the mind of the consumer, “I would rather pay my $1,000 deductible at this facility where the personnel are nice, my doctor has great bedside manner, and parking is not a hassle.” Very rarely will you hear a patient say, “this hospital provides more value for the dollar as indicated by their reduction in MRSA cases, low rates of hospital-acquired conditions, and reduced re-admissions. Jackpot!” Why are those indicators a condition of value (and quality) when it is the expectation of healthcare providers to deliver safe care? When they go to the hospital, they expect to NOT exit with a hospital-acquired infection. Healthcare providers should not be given extra kudos for delivering what they are supposed to do. Do no harm.
In addition to ensuring a safe delivery of care, providers of healthcare services should not overlook the qualities that today’s healthcare consumer values. Though the insurance companies pay the majority of the bill, it is the patient who decides where they will receive their care.
Service. Any organization that provides a service inherently has a focus on customer service. However, the healthcare industry has lagged severely when it comes to effectively engaging the customer. Though hospitals and other healthcare organizations have historically staffed for “patient advocates”, the focus has not been on proactive customer service but rather service recovery when something has gone wrong for the patient. For healthcare, service today needs to focus on treating the patient as a partner in their care. In no other service industry is it acceptable to talk down to the customer with dictionary-worthy words, and leave the patient more dazed and confused about their care. Even more so, there needs to be a consistency of service excellence from the clinical staff, front desk office, to the billing department.
Healthcare providers please take note: though consumers may not do without when it comes to healthcare services, they may find that they will do without YOUR care if you do not meet the consumer expectation of quality, value, and service. Healthcare organizations should lose sleep at night asking themselves, “Are our customers going to find consumer-minded quality, value and service at our organization?”
If the answer is anything less than an unequivocal YES, it is time to change how you do business in your organization. If healthcare providers are to function like a business, then they must function like a business and provide what their customers want. Healthcare organizations need to take a hard look at process steps, information sharing, collaboration practices, hiring practices of all staff, and continuous training and development initiatives.
Oh and a “thank you for your business” note to your customer is a nice touch.
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Crystal has over a decade of experience in the healthcare industry with a focus and passion for talent and workforce development. She is a versatile project manager, dynamic trainer, and results-oriented engagement manager. Crystal is a certified project management professional, a Fellow of the Healthcare Financial Management Association, a certified Strategic Workforce Planner and a member of the Association for Talent Development.
How to contact Crystal: ☏ 240-203-9177 ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org