The Willingness of Healthcare Institutional Leaders to Characterize Patients as “Customers”

Published: Tuesday, May 12th, 2020

Each of us is a consumer of many and varied goods and services, including healthcare. Healthcare is certainly changing and one of those changes, though subtle, is very significant. It is the willingness of Healthcare institutional leaders to characterize patients as “customers.”

Decades ago, healthcare executives, often physicians themselves, would bristle when patients were referred to as “customers.” They may have somehow concluded that being a customer wasn’t significant enough; being a patient meant something different, something better.

Enter the age of “Customer Experience” and suddenly healthcare has found a new avenue to explore as it grows and changes. Healthcare is being consolidated into “systems” where multiple hospitals are acquired to form the system. Along with hospitals, physician practices are being acquired and Ambulatory Care Centers built to centralize physician care and provide additional practice locations. Now Healthcare systems are recognizing that an enormous amount of “new” needs are emerging from their patients. These needs essentially cluster around the Customer Experience rather than around the clinical experience…a relatively new concept. Patients expect it to be easy to reach their provider via their preferred channel. The Experience Age frowns on lengthy delays, transfers, handoffs, poorly trained agents and limited digital access. The narrative changes when the patient becomes “the customer.” More information is sought around what happens before the clinical experience. For many years, the “patient journey map” began in the office, the clinic, or the hospital. Now that journey map begins with a phone call, a web search, or a portal.

How quickly calls are answered or messages responded to make up the first leg of the Patient/Customer Experience. Discussions are taking place at the executive level around service levels, abandoned calls, accuracy of the website “find a doc” page, availability of online scheduling, and scheduling appointments via the patient portal. Healthcare Contact Centers, often called Access Centers, are center stage when it comes to the Patient/Customer Experience.

It seems that healthcare is adopting many operational elements of eCommerce. Access Centers provide centralized services to physician practices they own or manage. As in eCommerce, Access Centers provide a variety of services…in this case, appointment scheduling, referral services, virtual front office, operator services, etc. The Access Center environment, like any other Contact Center environment requires putting a puzzle together. The pieces are strategy, experience, process, technology, human elements, information, and organizational capital. The puzzle’s number one success factor, however, is how all these factors come together at the front line. If the frontline agent is stitching together post-it note references, has to manage paper documentation, must rely on email updates for actionable information, and was provided inadequate training, the Patient/Customer Experience is at enormous risk.

Frontline agents must have access to a wide range of knowledge and information…from physician specialties, to insurance acceptance, to practice locations. All the while, they must navigate highly specialized scheduling systems and utilize specific (and varied) protocols related to individual providers.

To achieve excellence in both the interaction and the transaction, the front line must be equipped with information and learning tools that are easily updated and present clear information to the agent at the right time. Accuracy is critical in getting the right patient to the right provider at the right time and in the preferred location. Training and information management are essential in complex Healthcare environments where the patient now demands and deserves not only clinical treatment but to be treated as a valued customer. It is the value of the patient as a true customer that enhances the experience throughout the many phases of the patient journey.

About the Author

Kathleen, Founder and Chief Vision Officer of PowerHouse Consulting, a Panviva preferred partner has more than 30 years in the contact center industry. She leads strategic initiatives with senior management across industries to assess business processes and improve organizational practices. Kathleen is published widely in the most prestigious industry journals in the U.S. and abroad and has been the keynote speaker at conferences in the U.S. London, Paris, Turkey, Dubai, and Hong Kong. She is a “working” speaker, bringing energy and real-life experience to all engagements. Kathleen’s Rants and Raves are published monthly in the Call Center Times and she is also a regular contributor to the Contact Center Pipeline.

Follow Kathleen @kmp603

This article is an excerpt from our new eBook Build a Better Customer Experience available here.


Tags: Employee Experience, Customer Experience