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Letter from the Chairman by John May



Customer service in healthcare? We accept healthcare services as a necessity, but it does not have to be a painful experience (no pun intended). While the clinical side of healthcare has had major and wondrous technical advances, the patient experience in our wired world has languished in cold bureaucracy. Change is hard and has largely been avoided in the non-clinical side of healthcare.

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Have you ever wondered what our healthcare system experience would be like if it used technology to deliver services as Amazon does to deliver packages and bankers employ to allow you to manage your money online? We live in a world where the speed of life has gotten faster and healthcare is stalled, spotlighted by our frustration with needless delays and repetitious paperwork. Smartphones, PCs, laptops, smart TVs, and Google allow information to flow everywhere in seconds. So, why do patients have to fill out a new form every time they visit any doctor's office? Follow-ups, reminders, updates, appointments or checkups, all key ingredients of good customer service, are excruciatingly slow to improve in the industry's paper and fax machine mentality.

Elements of healthcare today include the perceived omnipotence of the provider; time constraints on doctor/patient interaction due to cost; a one-size-fits-all culture; and reluctance to move to modern communication. The last directly affects ‘customer service.'

The fact that healthcare costs are exorbitant begged a turnaround. The Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAPS) which began the process in 2002, focuses on patient satisfaction and, for the first time, creates incentives to improve. Poor patient satisfaction scores mean lower reimbursement by up to $1B industry wide. That got every healthcare professional's attention. The turnaround began.

Now, with the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), the focus on patient needs and communication further drive healthcare forward. The positive move to mobile initiatives can mean keeping people at home instead of in expensive nursing facilities or minimizing return trips to the hospital through the use of telemedicine and home monitoring. Mobile platforms can oversee vital statistics, with all the same precision that is done in the hospital, but at home. By being in virtual touch, the caregiver could anticipate and solve issues before they get critical. Just think about how many costly and burdensome trips to the ER could be eliminated.

This is the road to customer service. When customers and providers communicate, resolution of problems to the satisfaction of all involved is within reach. Office visits are more efficient, communication and follow-up smoother, answers to questions can be pursued in the mobile universe as they arise. Confidence that caregivers know the patient and are keystrokes away can give patients the confidence they need to take care of themselves. When all parties are able to stay connected, missteps on both sides are minimized. Outcomes are optimized.

Elements of customer service must include respect for both the needs of the consumer and the responsibilities of the provider; recognition of the distressing issues involved; troubleshooting solutions by involving both parties; and seeking to resolve problems to the satisfaction of all involved in a timely manner. That is the opportunity.

Along with a career in innovative technology, John was a Trustee in the Johns Hopkins Health System for 15 years and earned a master's degree in Computer Science from the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab. This combination of experience and education allows a broad perspective on healthcare, software and how the transfer of software platforms between industries have had a transformational impact. He believes the healthcare industry can, and should, be next.

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