Consumers of all kinds are more informed than ever. Quality reviews and ratings are available in several places and, accurate or not, provide a perspective from a former consumer of specific products. If a restaurant is rated a two-star restaurant, the likelihood of you going there if you have never been there before is very low, particularly if there is an ample sample size of ratings for that restaurant.
In healthcare, the quality of goods and services provided essentially equates to the patient experience. Have you ever walked in for an appointment that had been scheduled for a month or more and when you checked in you were told that your insurance now claims that your physician is ‘out of network?’ It happens all of the time. How about when that same insurance company tells you that being out of network wouldn’t change anything regarding reimbursement and then a month or so later you received a bill from the physician because the insurance company didn’t cover the visit. My guess is that you experienced one or both and were likely an unhappy patient. The reason had nothing to do with your physician and everything to do with administrative people at both the doctor’s office and at the insurance company, but the bottom line was that your patience experience was negative.
It is often said that the teller in a bank is the most important person there because they are the first person you see when you do business. That is not entirely true these days with electronic banking, but if so, they make that introductory impression that could make or break your banking ‘customer experience.’ If you have a negative teller experience it could change your mind about doing business with a bank, without even getting to the lending department. Quality on the back end is important, but upfront, early impressions and the human experience is critical.
When buying a car, if the salesperson is not someone you like you may either go to a different dealership for the same brand or change brands altogether due to that salesperson experience. As much as banking or automobile buying is not a commodity shopping experience, healthcare is likely far more a personal experience than either of them. So when the personal patient experience is negative, the overall experience also becomes negative. When that occurs a patient may change their physician, insurance company or both.
The bottom line to all of this is that nothing in a physician organization should be allowed to be mediocre, and patient-centric focus should be the top priority. From answering the phone and scheduling an appointment to reminder emails, direct mail or phone calls, intake at the time of the appointment, monitoring insurance coverage, or even taking vital signs prior to seeing the doctor to check out. The doctor time is a given that must be a quality experience, but none of this is unimportant. If one of the areas mentioned is not handled properly, patient experience and opinion will be adversely affected.
Using outside resources who focus on scheduling appointments, answering patient inquiries, checking insurance eligibility, processing claims, handling self-pay patients and a variety of other tasks can both reduce cost and improve quality. Organizations who specialize in these services are likely to be more focused and efficient and therefore less costly due to speed and accuracy. In addition, if they are concentrating on fewer tasks they may be able to stay patient-centric providing a better patient experience. Physicians’ offices can be chaotic at times. You may have experienced not getting eye contact from the person checking you for an appointment due to workload, multiple tasks and other distractions. How did that feel when you were already feeling lousy due to the flu or an injury?
Physicians lose patients because of poor experiences. Healthcare is not a commodity widget that is bought and taken home in a sack without much thought. It is a critical series of human interactions that can either make a patient feel comfortable and trusting or unnerved and skeptical. That same series of human interactions can make or break a physician practice. Rethinking how the patient experience is delivered and who delivers it is something to be carefully and critically considered.