Publisher's note: Modesty aside, John O. May is no outsider in medicine today.
He serves as: CEO of TrustNetMD, Inc. (.com); Trustee of Johns Hopkins Health Systems; Board of Directors, Northern Neck Free Care Clinic; Director of the Innovation and Development Center; Chairman of the Board, Doctor to Doctor Magazine.
I want to compliment Dr. Peter F. Bastone, who was interviewed for this publication. I congratulate him on his focus on keeping Chesapeake Regional Medical Center an integral part of the community.
I am constantly amazed at the clinical resources available to our doctors. The da Vinci system that Dr. Bastone mentioned is truly remarkable. I can say with certainty that if you get really sick, the best place for treatment is the US Health system.
So, why is dealing with our health care industry so complicated? Why is customer experience so frustrating? It need not be. My perspective comes from 30 years in the telecom industry. Patient experience in health care is getting top billing, but the customer experience is what can truly transform a business. I dealt with our clients' troubling customer experience and used communications technology to improve their business for companies from banking to retail. I watched these industries reinvent themselves by taking advantage of the reach of the internet, the power of new software, and the array of amazing devices that can be held in the palm of your hand.
Expand the Experience
Patient experience, which has recently become the focus of almost all providers, starts when a person decides they need to see a doctor and ends with the patient getting well. The customer experience, on the other hand, begins much earlier and ends much later. It envelops the patient experience beyond just medical. The customer experience is a fundamental component of any business, regardless of industry. If the customer experience is flawed, then the business cannot fire all cylinders. Poor customer service is a real cause of frustration in health care.
Customer experience must align and compliment how you buy something with what you buy. For example, Amazon lets you find then deliver your order to your porch in what seems to be an incredibly short period of time, and then lets you give feedback on the entire transaction. There are communications along every step of the way. Communication has always been the key to a great customer experience. For example, a patient/customer sits in a waiting room for an hour past expected. There are three possible outcomes: (1) the doctor apologizes, (2) the patient leaves and reschedules, or (3) the office sends a text to the patient to say they are running behind. Number 3 in today's terms would be considered an excellent customer experience. It turns a huge negative into a positive. And how long does it take to text â€“ 10 seconds?
The health care industry can easily address much of the frustration we experience today. A few ideas from cross-industry, outside-the-box thinking:
Cell phones in the continuity of care process
In 2015, patients, their families, and physician should be able to seamlessly interact and share information. The ubiquitous cell phone can be a virtual lifeline, especially when combined with many of the new wireless products on the market. In addition to accessing the wellbeing of the patient (are they mobile and active?), they are also perfect for managing activities, reminders (for medications, for example), scheduling activities, and appointments. There are people with tremendously complex, ongoing, overlapping health and mental problems. If left alone, their health can suffer. These people can be connected today.
Understand your customers on a personal level
Companies like LL Bean and Amazon remember your purchase history, your comments, and your likes and dislikes. These companies have the customer experience right. They can understand, remember, and build their understanding on each customer engagement. Primary care doctors must take care of thousands of patients and this number is going to increase under Obamacare. They do not have retail software; but they could.
Know the business â€“ plan your day from the top down
Understand your customers as a group and what resources they will need. As hospitals and physicians handle an increase in volume, resources like the hospital's facilities, availability of doctors, support staff, training, and discharge planning get stretched. ERP (enterprise resource planning) software is used in other industries to manage corresponding issues and the relevant resources. By integrating that software with the electronic medical record system, our hospitals and physicians would be able to see real-time patient information along with up-to-date resources needed to be brought online. Top-down planning is the key to delivery, a key component of the customer experience.
Use dashboarding to keep track of more patients
A telecom company can remotely reach into your home to assess the health of your equipment and then update and display customer status in a central system. This is dashboarding. Given that physicians will need to manage a lot more patients more effectively, especially in primary care and home health care environments, they will need this same capability. The tools are available now.
Use the internet and location services
Based on your location, Google and Google Maps can tell you what is around you: restaurants, gas stations, ATMs, and even hospitals. The care team of a patient can access this information with handheld devices. Their children, physicians, and friends could identify community resources like medical and mental health services, churches and other religious institutions, transportation, support groups, senior services and support, clinics, community health workers, and help groups as easily as they find as a restaurant. An app could easily coordinate everything in your area.
Embrace social media â€“ customer reviews trump third party every time
Social media for health care is becoming an integral part of the customer experience, more so as 20 and 30 somethings enter the picture. The excellent reviews of CMRC on the hospital's website need social media web experts to make sure CMRC's ranking in searches reflects this valuable opinion by their customers.
What is your cost for this procedure?
Healthcare providers need to publish their pricing; a painful but essential part of every customer experience, present in all other industries and part of every buying decision. It is also the right thing to do â€“ it eliminates financial unknowns. Since we all get bills after discharge, then it should not be difficult to list out cost options first and not rely on stories and rumors to set pricing. Trusting relationships are build on transparency. I bet the institutions that do this first will see a big increase in their business.
Be a solution provider
I have always loved the idea that Google's website contains no data, they just know where the data is. Dr. Bastone's reference to Miracle on 34th Street where the Macy's Santa sends a customer to Gimbels; the customer came first. Since it is prohibitively expensive to be everything for everyone, hospitals, especially community hospitals, need to adopt the Google/Macy model because, it is in the best interest of the customer and ultimately the hospital itself.
Keeping patients up to date. What's next?
Medical histories of patients must be living documents as they move between silos of care: a real time view of progression through the health care maze. Real time workflow products do this today.
And my personal pet peeve: "Please arrive 15 minutes early to fill out forms."
Adopt a central form for all physicians, simply validated by the patient at every visit to be sure it is correct. Why not â€“ it makes sense, and eliminates 14 minutes of pure frustration.
A great customer experience involves getting the right service, at the right time, in the right place; seamlessly and hassle free. The transformation of the customer experience in health care can be profound and not involve a lot of heavy lifting. The systems and technologies already exist in other industries and can deliver on the examples I use above today. Our health care leaders must look to successes outside their own industry to gain... perspective.