Customer Service in Healthcare: The New Paradigm

As healthcare becomes more personalized and patients take a more proactive role in their care, the importance of customer service has become paramount, explains Lynne Lancaster, Generational Expert and Co-Founder of Bridgeworks, Wayzata, MN. There are 3 main pillars of customer service that managers can use to improve the patient experience at their practices.

Physical Setting and First Impressions

Ms Lancaster suggests that practice managers walk in their patients’ shoes.

“Walk through your own office as if it is the first time you have ever been there,” she said. “See it through the eyes of the patient.”

Sit in the chairs, listen to the sounds, watch the television, try to get on the Internet, taste the coffee, sit in the examination room, and read the magazines. Consider whether the office looks neat. Does it smell nice? Is it welcoming? Are people greeted in a friendly manner?

Ms Lancaster suggests that managers follow the Golden Rule. “Treat each person as an individual. Even if they are difficult.”

She also poses the question, “Can you provide any amenities?” and asks that providers consider the following:

  • People may not need a cup of coffee or water, but the idea that you offered makes a huge difference.
  • Could you have an espresso machine or a small fridge with sparkling waters or a little basket of snacks?
  • Could you post the wireless password prominently and make it easy to use?
  • Can you make the television or magazines more appealing?
  • How about calming music or an open window? Maybe some fresh flowers?

She also urges providers to consider patients’ first impressions as they approach the front desk. They should be greeted warmly and asked what they prefer to be called; this preference should be noted in their chart. “And don’t ask for their insurance card first!” Ms Lancaster emphasizes.

It is also important to consider the patient’s comfort. “Pillows, warmed blankets, water to drink, changing the temperature in the room…these all make people feel cared for,” she notes.

Patient Communication and Advocacy

Ms Lancaster reminds providers to keep their patients in the loop. For example, if the physician is running 10 minutes behind, let them know. “Everyone does better when they know what’s happening,” she says. And ask patients how they prefer to communicate, such as via text, a phone call, or e-mail.

More and more, when it comes to healthcare, patients are seeking information from sources they trust (most often online sources). Therefore, it is important that practices remain open to dialogue and try to provide additional resources that patients will respect.

“Curate peer-generated resources,” she advises. “If you find a great story or piece of information, keep it on file using a tool like Pocket. When patients come to you with questions, you’ll have an arsenal of consumer-friendly stories to share.”

According to Ms Lancaster, the “quicker click” is now a reality, and patients expect to be able to connect with their providers easily. Avoid making phone calls to younger patients, but keep in mind that older patients often prefer this method of communication.

When communicating with older patients, ensure that their concerns are being addressed. “They may be doing what they are told and not asking questions,” she notes. “You need to fish for these.”

If your office uses a certain type of software, help patients with the technology, she suggests. Consider setting up a “demo desk” with a computer to show them how to log into their account, schedule appointments, or access their medical records.

Patients feel better when they know they have some control, so seek their input. Ask whether there is anything you can do to make their life easier when it comes to their care, she advises.

Taking Care of Yourself

Ms Lancaster says that the great irony is the fact that healthcare professionals often do not tend to their own health.

“You can’t help others get well if you are not well,” she notes, explaining that stress, anxiety, and obesity are on the rise among healthcare professionals.

She also suggests that managers check in with their coworkers on a regular basis. If someone seems burned out, there may be a way to lighten the load.

“Finally, support each other,” Ms Lancaster says. “It’s easy to take an ‘every man for himself’ approach, but we need to have each other’s backs.”

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