In other industries, a great customer experience may result in a happy customer and often, increased sales. But when expectations are not met for their customer, the biggest consequence typically results in an inconvenience or the customer walks away not getting what they WANT. However, customer service in healthcare deals with health and well-being and in many cases, life and death. Patient experience sets the tone for the quality of care that they will receive and when expectations are not met, the repercussions are far greater than the loss of sales for the provider. Patients may walk away not getting what they NEED.
This is why customer service must be a high priority in healthcare. Services provided are seen as a necessity, as opposed to a luxury (as in many other industries where customer service is provided).
Patients may already be cautious when seeking medical attention. Whether it be preventative care or seeking treatment for an existing condition, they may have health and financial concerns weighing heavy on them before even stepping foot in your practice. This is why it’s important to approach patient care not just as a healthcare industry, but the customer service industry as well.
How do you ensure that your medical operation is patient-centric? Break down every patient-facing process you have internally and experience it from their perspective. How is each and every experience a positive one for your patient?
- Marketing: Consider the ease of use of your website or the understandability of your marketing outreach.
- Appointment Setting: How easy is it for the patient to schedule an appointment with your office? Is there a 2-month waiting period for new patients? Can you accommodate family needs without making the patient feel like a burden? Think about these things when putting your scheduling policies and guidelines in place.
- Intake: Your check-in procedures may make or break the patient’s trust in you. If this is a new patient, this is their first in-person impression of you. As a practice manager for many years, I’ve experienced patients walking right out without even seeing the provider. Some for valid reasons and others simply because we don’t understand what they’re walking into the office with that day. Consider check-in policies that can adapt to the patient, instead of the patient having to adapt to your policy.
- The Visit: By the time the patient sees the provider, they have had plenty of interactions with your team to set the tone for the visit. Consider how long they’ve had to wait: not just in the room but also at check-in, or even beforehand when setting the appointment. Is this a transactional interaction, or do they feel heard and attended to during their visit? Find a good balance for your providers to meet your operational and budgetary needs, while also making the patient feel valued as an individual.
- Referrals: If additional care is required for your patients, make sure they are in good hands when you send them to receive other services. Continuity of care can sometimes be a nightmare for patients. Be sure that your referral partners share your values and not just your insurance carriers. Follow up and ensure that your patient receives the same level of care, even when they leave your practice. Put procedures in place that take responsibility for your patient, no matter who they are referred to at any given time.
- Billing/Insurance: When it comes to the transactional side of healthcare, there are additional challenges involved. It is not just simple business-to-customer (B2C) transactions occurring. There are almost always 3rd party entities involved in the transaction. This factor alone has the potential to derail any positive customer service experience the patient has received to this point. Be clear in your communication protocols when it comes to billing and consider patient-friendly practices when it comes to payment options and protocols. Don’t make the financial portion of the patient experience an afterthought. After all, it is often top of mind for your patient and will always have an impact on their overall experience.
Lastly, get continuous feedback from your patients. Hear them out and identify areas where you excel so you can maximize them. Fill in the gaps that make their experience anything less than exceptional. Even if patients have a bad customer experience, simply reaching out and asking for their feedback may help them feel valued and keep them coming back.