Thursday, February 27, 2014
Improving Customer Service One Transaction at a Time
No matter what business you’re in, it’s important to improve customer service. It’s an on going process, and it is best taken on one transaction at a time. You can’t let it go or lose momentum, or you’ll find your customer base slipping away, far down that slippery slope of dissatisfaction.
In the medical, dental, veterinary, or pharmaceutical services professions, improving customer service means improving patient satisfaction and patient loyalty. This is an important area to focus on, more so than in any other business types, because basically it means that you’re practicing health care services in the most efficient, effective, and practical way possible.
An unsatisfied customer in a restaurant - well, he’ll impact the business by eating elsewhere, but no one’s life is at stake. In a medical practice of any kind, dissatisfaction can lead to disengagement that can be life threatening for the patient, and that can prevent adequate patient care.
In a very practical sense, if a patient doesn’t receive a good quality of customer service, it can also impact the medical office’s bottom line. Having satisfied patients means loyalty, success in a competitive marketplace, and improvements in health care and health care delivery.
After all, patients are a strong part of the accountability equation in healthcare. Their selection of your medical office means that healthcare delivery is measured favorably. If you don’t receive a favorable measurement, you’ll end up with no patients. And regardless of your capabilities in healing, if your patients don’t come to the table, you can’t heal.
Attracting and satisfying patients depends on customer service. And customer service relies upon communication and accessibility. Of course when you do communicate well, you are satisfying patients. This leads to the attraction of more patients. Your accessibility to your patients and the broader community around you leads to a healthy business model.
So what are some practice steps to improve customer service and satisfaction?
Timely service is key. In short: deliver service to the patient on your patient’s schedule. Eliminate long waits for lab test result distribution. Create a practice-wide goal of responding to patient questions, via phone, email, or in person. Don’t put off your patient’s concerns until it is convenient for you.
Scheduling is also important. Timing appointments to eliminate long wait times is practical and efficient for patients and staff alike.
Organization. Like timely service and scheduling, organization is a part of any successful business. In a medical practice this means delegation of tasks, time efficiency measures, and respecting the duties of others within your organization.
Peaceful environment. Patients and staff alike do not respond well to disrespect. And why should they? No bullying. We know that you’re not operating a yoga practice. But we can all learn from the serenity of yogis everywhere. Calm down, deep breath, no bullying, respect. Every employee should know how to address patient concerns and complaints.
Language skills. Sometimes even with the best of intention, words can wound or disregard. Non-verbal cues are also important. Make good eye contact. Use non-judgmental phrasing. Eliminate boundary markers between patients and staff.
Stay blame free. This contributes to improved language skills and a peaceful community. Speak clearly, use facts, not accusations. An employee may make a mistake once, but if that same mistake happens again, it’s just as likely to be the fault of the medical system or community in which he or she is operating.
Overall, we find that patient satisfaction is rapidly becoming a top priority for health care providers nationwide. Quality of care, quantity of care, these are bound areas, not separate from one another.
Providers are rewarded for good service as the nationwide Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services put into practice the Hospital Value-Based Purchasing Program, distributing funds to hospitals based on quality measures through the Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems Survey.
Improving service is more and more about improving the entire cultural experience of a health care practice, including it’s efficiency, character, and patient outcomes.
Once again, there are some relatively simple but vitally important steps that lead to success in customer service. First of all, everyone within the practice should be aware of what they’re doing and why they are doing it. Understanding among staff members leads to high patient satisfaction and outcome improvement. Second, staff members should be listened to, and their opinions sought. Collaborate, innovate, and work together to formulate successful patient/staff ethos.
While skilled care is obviously of the essence, so is timeliness of care. Staff members should all be encouraged to address patient needs when presented, rather than cataloging or ignoring them.
Small touches make a difference in patient comfort, and these include rapid assessment of a situation, and attentiveness to questions or concerns. In a more general way, comfort includes such areas as having free wi-fi available, or volunteers who can meet with patients to reassure or assist. These are all excellent examples of ways to reach out to patients on every transaction, in every medical care environment from office to pharmacy to hospital.
Another important area of customer service improvement involves record keeping. When health care providers can utilize accurate information about patients, patients receive better medical care. Electronic health records available today are a huge step forward in improving customer service for patients over handwritten notes that can all too easily be misplaced or disregarded. Electronic health records on the other hand can literally improve diagnostic ability in regard to diseases and over all care. They also dramatically reduce and prevent medical errors, and allow providers to deliver better patient outcomes.
After all, when using EHRs, providers have reliable and comprehensive information about a patient's health information. This can definitively assist providers is the diagnosis of patients' problems more quickly, improve safety, and support healthy outcomes. One reason for this is the fact that EHRs not only transmit patient information, they also manipulate it, checking for problems in medications, alerting staff to patient allergies, medical combination conflicts, primary care tactics and those involving specialized clinical assistance. They can illuminate potential safety hazards and help staff to avoid them. The result is healthier and more satisfied patients than paper based record keeping can provide.
And, with the advancement of medical practices and technology, delivering skilled, high end medical care is easier and more inclusive. From primary care doctors to nurses, technicians, and pharmacy staff, there’s an overall coordinated effort that’s sustainable, despite limited, specific patient interactions within each care giver’s field of expertise.
In short, improving patient satisfaction through today’s technology means information sharing, data standardizing, integrated care plans, and access to medical records - resulting in simpler, faster, smarter care. A marked reduction in medical errors and an improvement in error prevention and patient education is also growing through current technology.
And, many health care practices find that EHRs will also help with management efficiency and savings, more rapid dissemination of lab results and test information, cost savings through the automating of paper based, labor heavy tasks. There are substantial savings to a practice, which can be passed on to patients, in regard to reduced costs for transcription, records and record filing, and more accurate coding to improve reimbursement from insurance plans. As staff efficiency improves, tasks are streamlined, costs decrease, and accuracy improves, too. Talk about a win-win situation.
EHR-using medical practices can successfully link appointments to staff progress notes, manage claims and billing more efficiently, and automate coding. In turn, time savings, centralized management skills in regard to records, and easy to access patient information from anywhere with internet capabilities makes patient care and staff costs both improve. Also improved are disease prevention programs with the ability to access diagnostic imaging and contact government and public health officials to prevent epidemic outbreaks. Duplicating testing or imaging is dramatically reduced with the efficient, accessible record keeping EHR’s provide.
It’s important to recognize that all medical practices face pressure to improve their patient experience, not just as a productive business model or for hospital funding, but due to public reporting and survey scores. More and more, the fact that the patient is the most important person in a medical care system is being recognized, resulting in customer service improvement all around for the patient.
New transparency in patient care is healthy for patients and care givers alike, and it also leads to an increased demand for enhanced medical service experience, and greater participation in health care practices by the patients themselves.
Improving customer - patient - service is based upon technology use, caring, record keeping, and addressing staff needs as well as those of the patient. Each transaction is an opportunity to improve, to grow, and to serve. And if you need a helping hand with these improvements, particularly where compliance with new patient models, government rules and regulations, and office team work are concerned - MedTrainer’s online education and training program can and does help. We partner with individual medical practices to provide the baseline information and plans for overall improvement that are vitally necessary in today’s medical care environment.