Healthcare professionals will understand the importance of seeing patients as customers and be able to answer their questions, improve credibility, resolve support issues, nurture relationships, thus maintaining customer loyalty to the facility they trust.
After completing this continuing education course, the participant will be able to meet the following objectives:
Delivering quality customer service is a challenge in every industry, especially in healthcare organizations where life-and-death situations continuously occur. The goals of the customer (patient) are often complex and immediate gratification is expected.
Healthcare professionals, as care providers, serve customers who often are at the most vulnerable times in their lives. It is the healthcare professional's responsibility to communicate effectively, and in some cases, deliver news that can be devastating to an individual or a family. Consequently, healthcare workers must have a positive attitude, empathy, manners, and realize that amenities encountered during customer's experiences at medical facilities weigh with similar importance to their treatment processes.
According to a recent Gartner study, "Healthcare service organizations will need to raise their performance standards for today's varied points of patient engagement (mobile, text, email, etc.)."1 Many customers search online for the facility they will go to; therefore, online advertising is the most effective way to attract new customers, acquire them, and ultimately retain them.
Getting the healthcare consumer experience right requires greater alignment with what customers expect from other industries. It requires omnichannel provider interaction that emphasizes simplification and personalization. Finally, it must bring together the following five qualities healthcare consumers expect and increasingly demand.2
Also noticed by customers was the cleanliness, odor, and how color, lighting, textures, provided a warm and comfortable non-threatening environment for customers and employees. Four elements required for an effective design were function, aesthetics, individuality, and economy. The purpose of having a reception area is to blend hospitality with wellness so that customers feel valued and want to return to the facility administering their care. These all contribute to employees' and customers' positive responses to the environment.
Those in administrative positions listen very carefully to their clients' leadership team to ensure that a customer's experience reflects the health care organization's mission of providing safe, quality care that's accessible and easy to navigate. Many administrators check online social networks to read feedback from customers and employees.
Consumers often self-diagnose with lots of information available over the internet. It is easy to search for local and nearby medical clinics and make decisions by checking their websites and ratings. Instead of using the phone to fix-up an appointment, the "next-gen" customers prefer booking their appointments online through the website or mobile app. Customers today need self-service access to their personal information and other healthcare-related content including appointment confirmations, health reminders, educational tips, etc.3
Because of the wide range of healthcare choices available nowadays, customers are making healthcare decisions based on accessibility, customer service, and cost. Managing customer engagement plays a critical role for healthcare providers to keep up with the high standards of care required by customers. Healthcare facility administrators and department managers need to strive to efficiently operate while delivering high standards of customer care to cope with the growing demands of customers and the rapid change in technology.3
Night- time Hospital Receptionist in the Emergency Room called the Nursing Supervisor and Hospital Police for assistance if needed. Outside the Emergency room door was a young man yelling and screaming to a parking lot full of his friends who had been at his home celebrating his anniversary.
The Nursing Supervisor introduced herself, looked at him eye to eye, and said she could not hear him due to a deafness she had and asked him to lower his voice and to tell her what was going on, "since what he had to say was important". He stopped screaming and said his wife became ill at their anniversary party. His wife had chest pain, could not breath, became pale and he had called - 911. The ambulance brought her to this hospital, and he followed in his car with his friends behind him.
Once at the hospital she was rushed into the ER. No one would tell him what was going on and if she was alive or dead. He had been waiting about 30 minutes or more and was worried and very upset.
The Hospital Police were present with the Nursing Supervisor who said she would immediately see what was going on and encouraged the husband to come into the waiting room with his daughter. The Police showed him where the waiting area was and offered him coffee and another drink for his daughter. The Nursing Supervisor said she would inform him of what she had learned.
The Nursing Supervisor went into the customer care area and found out what was happening and asked when her husband and daughter could see her. The Supervisor returned with updated information and said he could see her once emergency tests were completed. The Supervisor told him that his wife was pain free, on a heart monitor, and breathing with oxygen. The doctor would be out as soon as he had the information from the tests being done and the course of treatment for his wife. The doctor said his wife had to be admitted for observation.
Since his wife was going to be admitted he was asked to encourage his friends to return to their homes. Only his wife's immediate family could visit for short intervals until she was feeling better.
The Nursing Supervisor apologized for the lack of communication and told the husband he did the right thing on calling 911. The husband thanked her for helping him and said he knew he drank too much!
Customer service software is specifically designed to maximize customer service engagement by utilizing these three basic features:6,7
Other keys to Customer Interactions to avoid and/or to enhance communication:5, 6
Jennifer a 100% disabled Veteran was with her working service dog and was waiting for a pass. Someone attempted to pet her dog and she asked him to "not touch her dog, he is working". He became angry, volatile, and she was immediately cursed at, Jennifer went to the police office for assistance and was told by the police dispatcher, who was not a police officer, "it was his 5th amendment right" to curse at her. Several Police officers who returned to the office and listened to what had occurred, empathized with her and said that they would follow- up, and start the re-education process. She thanked them for their help and concern.
Providers must gather information from each customer and create a customer interaction repository. Agents or healthcare representatives then have access to all the data whenever they get to speak with the customer. By tracking and viewing the journey of the customers, an organization can anticipate their next request and act accordingly.
This process empowers the customer service representatives with contextual information before interacting with the customer. Now an agent can quickly resolve a customer's issue. Anticipating their request in advance can drastically reduce the traffic of calls that their contact centers receive without hampering their quality of service.
Using a latest contact center technology with modern features that satisfies the needs of every generation will improve and enhance customer service in healthcare, enabling providers to retain customers and increase customer loyalty.
The healthcare industry is all about ensuring maximum satisfaction and convenience to customers. According to the latest Cisco survey, 70% of customers feel delighted when doctors specifically address their queries over the telephone.6
Regular feedback from customers regarding how they feel after getting the treatment from a specific healthcare facility is also a good way to keep rapport and as well know the areas where the hospital needs to work harder. It is essential for the healthcare sector to rejuvenate its customer support service. A team of qualified customer support executives not only acts as a bridge between the customers and the hospitals but, also enhances the efficacy of the treatment while coordinating the customers course of treatments.7, 8
Today, hospitals are being opened everywhere. On an estimate, each region now has two to three hospitals or even more across every county. Therefore, these increases competition between healthcare facilities. Because of this it is more difficult for hospitals to keep a tab on their customers. Consequently, a customer service department of a hospital must walk an extra mile to keep and win the faith of its customers.
Customer surveys provide invaluable insight into healthcare customer service. Over the past decade Social reform is taking the spotlight after several technical- changes have taken place in the healthcare industry.
A national survey called the Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS) started being randomly administered to patients at participating hospitals in 2006. The purpose of the survey was to accomplish the following:8,9
In this survey, patients were asked to evaluate several categories that are closely tied to customer service skills. Among them are the following factors:9
The information gathered using HCAHPS includes one major element of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and healthcare reform efforts is the Hospital Value-Based Purchasing (VBP) Program. This provides a financial incentive for hospitals that provide quality care to customers receiving Medicare benefits. This is essentially a way the government hopes to push higher customer care standards. Healthcare providers are having to take notice. The customer surveys give us a closer look at customer service in healthcare.6,7,8, 9
The HCAHPS includes questions aimed at the following:7, 8. 9, 10
Jane was a mother whose daughter had Lupus and had passed away at 24 years of age. When asked by writer what she thought about the customer service her daughter had received she said that her daughter and she had received outstanding care.
Her daughter, Lori at all hours frequently went into the hospital to treat her Lupus. The staff from all areas knew her daughter and would go out of their way to get what ever her daughter wanted and needed in a timely manner. If a procedure was to be done the nurses and doctors would explain why it was needed and how knowing the results of the procedure or change in treatment was useful and important.
One physician spent a great deal of his personal time studying the disease and helped her personal physician. He too answered her questions and her mother's whether it dealt with new medications, their possible side effects, and if it really would help with her Lupus. Whenever she entered the hospital, she was always treated with kindness and respect.
Upon being discharged everything was explained and questions answered both to Jane and her daughter. When her daughter passed away emotional support was given to Jane and family members by her daughter's healthcare providers. She and her daughter were given the best of care and everything in her daughter's room was always well organized, accessible, and clean. Jane said if she became ill, she would go to the same hospital. They truly care about their customers!
The Federal government is putting an emphasis on customer service in healthcare. Hospitals and healthcare providers now have programs that incentivize better service, and providers are beginning to adjust their priorities. Customer Satisfaction scores affect a hospital's funding and customers referrals.9 To receive reimbursements more and more, hospitals must ensure high customer satisfaction. Staff in all areas will need to feel engaged with their jobs, and every employee must treat all customers to the best of their abilities and caliber. Eventually, it is the service motive that wins and keeps customers not just the money. Customer service surveys and improved hospital amenities are now becoming commonplace in many healthcare facilities.7,8,9,10
The gradual changes we're seeing now in healthcare providers' approach to a customer's satisfaction, were born out of a financial nudge from the government. Great customer service isn't just about the bottom- line but healthcare professionals know it is the right thing to do!
Customers with an illness or injury, positive interactions with hospital staff can go a long way in improving an otherwise unpleasant situation.
Good customer service extends beyond a pleasant demeanor. It has a lot to do about customer-centered care. The IOM (Institute of Medicine) defines customer-centered care as: "Providing care that is respectful of and responsive to individual customer preferences, needs, and values, and ensuring that customer values guide all clinical decisions."11
The simple truth is that customers frequently use Social Media. They use it to look for information, find support, and make healthcare decisions. Combining social media and healthcare can be challenging. But the use of social media in healthcare also presents incredible new opportunities. Social media is a great platform to share important health information.
Today's empowered, tech-savvy, self-referral patients have plenty of choices when it comes to deciding on their healthcare provider. More than 80% of prospective customers use online physician reviews to choose a new provider. Another notable use of social media is to help people find common ground on critical healthcare topics.
Social Media is "Loved by Healthcare Consumers". Consumers use social media to find new treatments and advice. Providers must connect with consumers through educational content. This content can be shared to help educate others about health-related topics. Over 40 percent of consumers report that information they find on social media affects their health and wellness decisions. Another 90 percent of people 18 to 24 years old trust medical information they find on social media. This means it's more important than ever for healthcare experts to be visible online to provide this critical information.10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15
Mobile healthcare is expanding as consumers turn to the internet for data. Every generation, including baby boomers, are online. Forbes reported that as of January 2017, 9 percent of all Facebook users were over 55 years of age. This generation is more tech-savvy and they search for local healthcare services and use YouTube and Facebook for health-related information. Thus it is important to create marketing plans that also serve baby boomers.12, 13, 14, 15
Charles was on vacation and sprained his right ankle. It felt broken and he decided to go to an Urgent Care Center. When he limped into the Urgent Care waiting area, he immediately went to the Receptionist who seemed overwhelmed with so many customers needing help. Without looking up she asked him what he needed and stated it would be at least 40 minutes before anyone could see him, but a nurse would come possibly sooner and she would let the nurse know that he was here in the waiting room.
After 30 minutes a nurse appeared, introduced herself, apologized for the wait. She then looked at him and led him into a room where she checked his vital signs, asked him what had happened and looked at his right ankle. She stated he would probably need an X-Ray of his right ankle to make sure it was not broken.
The doctor came shortly after and said he was sorry this had to happen on his vacation. He ordered the X-Ray and found the ankle was not broken and ordered a wrap and a support bandage. He was shown how to dress his ankle and given supplies to do so. A follow up visit was set up.
Charles got online using his phone and stated the customer service was great and the wait not so bad. He suggested that they needed more help for the receptionist during busy hours.
Generation X (Gen X), those born between 1965 and 1980, are also searching for health-related topics. Gen X accounts for 1.5 billion YouTube views each day. This generation is caring for children and aging parents. This means they might search for how to soothe a colicky baby, the best long-term care facilities, and so much more.
Millennials known as Generation Y (Gen Y) are sometimes referred to as "echo boomers" due to a major surge in birth rates in the 1980s and 1990s, and because millennials are often the children of the baby boomers. The characteristics of millennials vary by region and by individual, and the group experiences a variety of social and economic conditions, but they are generally marked by their coming of age in the Information Age.
This generation (Gen Y) uses urgent care facilities when ill and accesses advice online. They are likely to turn to their peers on social media or online support groups. They can get 24-hour support from others who have the same or similar experiences. This can also lead them to try new approaches to preventative healthcare.
Millennials (GenY) are focused on healthy living. However, they are also cost-conscious consumers. This combination makes them highly open to using social media to find healthcare information. In fact, 93 percent of millennials report that they don't schedule preventive health visits with their primary providers. According to a 2014 Nielsen study, millennials search for alternative medicine as a way of healthy living. They often use wellness strategies such as meditation, acupuncture, and natural remedies over pharmaceuticals.
With everyone heading to the web for health-related information, it makes sense that healthcare companies would go there too. By providing accurate and reliable information, providers can engage with consumers and improve their overall wellness.
According to a recent Gartner study, healthcare service organizations will need to raise their performance standards for today's varied points of patient engagement (mobile, text, email, etc.). Many customers search Online for the facility they will go to. Social media provides an easy way to share information with consumers.
As consumers turn to the internet for data, mobile healthcare is expanding. There are over 320,000 health and fitness apps available. However, not many of them collect data on effectiveness. These apps may not cure chronic disease, but experts believe they can change behaviors. When apps are combined with a physician or counselor, customers may experience an improvement in their health.
Many users feel that having an app can help with accountability. The medical community is embracing the role social media plays in healthcare. Consequently, online advertising is the most effective way to attract new customers, acquire them, and ultimately retain them.
Social Media requires efficient internet functions. Microsoft is providing funding to telecommunications companies for broadband infrastructure projects and expertise about technological solutions, working with device manufacturers to develop better and more affordable technologies, and investing in digital skills training.17. 18
This new solution, like Microsoft's Rural Airband Initiative uses gaps between TV Channels, thus it connects areas lacking service. Standard WIFI signals reach about 330 feet, but Microsoft's Rural Airband Initiative can expand over 6 miles. There are now more than 90 "Airband projects" around the world, including partnerships with 12 internet service providers in 24 U.S. states.15, 16
Maryann was preparing to take her daughter, Tiffany to a hospital twelve hours away for surgery on her breast, because of a stage four malignancy which was recently diagnosed. She had one major worry aside from the procedure that was constantly on her mind. Her daughter was only 18 and needed to stay in the hospital to recover. The doctors said after surgery radiation and chemo treatments would be needed. There were no healthcare facilities in their rural town where she could receive the treatments.
When Maryann returned home after her daughter’s surgery, she wanted to be able to use the internet to do video chats, and be able to see and communicate daily. In the past they tried video chats during a previous hospital stay, but the internet connection on the dairy farm where they lived was much too slow.
They could talk by phone, but this had its limitations, and she could not see Tiffany's face to see if she was looking better and getting stronger after the surgery and after the radiation and chemo treatments were taking place. Her sisters and brothers also wanted to see and talk to her and share funny stories. They lived in a rural area of Oklahoma and internet connections were almost non-existent.
Maryann needed a solution and found it, on a Social Media Thread where other rural residents were posting about their connectivity issues. Someone mentioned Network Business Systems Inc., a small internet provider in the area and a partner in Microsoft's Airband Initiative, a five-year commitment to bring broadband access to 3 million people in unserved rural communities nationwide by July 2022. Maryann contacted the company, which set up an internet tower for her family on a grain tower at a nearby farm.
As Tiffany recovered from breast surgery at a hospital specializing in cancer treatments and later, as she underwent six weeks of radiation, the family was able to visit with her every day via video chat when they couldn't be there.
In this new age of "technological miracles" having access to high speed internet and working with companies to make this happen Microsoft has also brought connectivity to military Veterans. Now improvement of broadband access has provided Veterans with the ability to receive digital skills training, and telehealth services to Veterans living in rural areas.16
Improving customer service for healthcare professionals is an ongoing process with many avenues for success and with new futuristic ways to connect and constantly educate the healthcare community and the customers they serve.
It is vital that all healthcare providers communicate effectively, take complaints and concerns seriously, put systems in place that keep healthcare providers safe and help customers feel valued and important. Providing great service to customers will make them feel like you are all on the same team, customers will be more apt to send referrals, and they will be more willing to make sure you are paid for the time and efforts you have spent on their care.
When challenges occur, it is up to the healthcare professionals to use their knowledge, skills and experiences to be creative and at times implement and change systems and policies that will improve customer services, and encourage all staff to work as a cohesive team. To be the best of the best always get feedback by asking: What went well? What did not go well? How can "we" improve?