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Excellent Customer Service in the U.S. Health Care System

Updated on September 10, 2012

The U.S. Health Care System

Health care in the United States has taken a big hit, especially in the past four years. Economical streamlining has created cuts across the nation, but world wide, people feel the negative effects of a crushed economy. There is not one country that has not experienced a blow to their nation’s financial stability. When this occurs, it affects all areas of livelihood, including our health care and its delivery.

As a Registered Nurse, I have observed changes in medical centers, doctor’s offices, and hospitals, where I’ve been employed for the duration of my career. Historically, health care providers focused on the physical, mental and spiritual aspects of the patient, concerned for a person’s total well being. As time passed, the technical aspects of health care became state of the art, and health care as an industry became primarily focused on profit and progress, losing the personal touch. As small hospitals gave way to larger health care systems, and doctor’s offices became medical centers, patient care became time driven-how many patients could be seen in X number of hours. No longer was it acceptable for a doctor to sit and chat about what might really be ailing you.

Excellent Customer Service has Strong Leaders

Now, more than ever before, businesses are realizing that ‘good customer service’ is no longer the goal; competition is steep in all types of industries, health care included; and in order to thrive in today’s economy, one must go above and beyond. Therefore, stellar health care systems hire experts to manage the key points of customer service and present them to the leaders of the corporation. If those in charge of the overall management of a major health care system do not understand the basic points of what makes great customer service, how can their employees expect to get it-or implement an action plan?

The Underlying Principles of Great Customer Service

Here are some key points that have been researched, through direct patient surveys and marketing queries, and implemented for the importance of maintaining and gaining new clients and providing excellent customer service:

1. Strong health care entities have a mission goal of service to their customers, (the patient and their families), their employees, (satisfied employees create a warm working environment in which the patient is received), and the community, (patients live in the community and know many people who may eventually need the health care services).

2. Effective leaders role model the mission statement and standards and assist their subordinates to support these standards by providing what is necessary to create an above average atmosphere of service.

3. A positive health care work environment respects and values each employee, no matter what level of education; from the front desk receptionist, to the housekeepers, cooks, dietary staff, the technicians, Registered Nurses, pharmacists, and physicians. No one person is exempt from the expectation that they are a contributor to the overall satisfaction of the client during their stay in the hospital.

4. Employees are given opportunities to receive adequate training to carry out the mission standards; opportunities to offer feedback regarding their work experiences; and evaluation on whether they are meeting those standards.

5. A strong health care system is confident in inquiring of their clients, (patients), how they can improve and therefore offers a patient satisfaction survey system.

6. A team attitude, and incentive for improving, is supported through positive, strong support of all department managers.

Customer service training tool

Books for Excellent Customer Service

The Success of Great Customer Service in Health Care

It is obvious when a health care system is working within a community because it shows signs of growth. The hospital may get state of the art equipment; they may add wings or new services; new staff is hired; etc. Additionally, the particular health care corporation may be affiliated with a local medical center, which also reflects progress and improvement for services in the community.

How does this growth occur? It happens because of the dynamic flow of energy that is put into that service experience. For example: A patient who visits a doctor and ends up in a hospital for further testing or medical help is not a separate entity. Even if the patient has no other family members in the immediate area, there is bound to be a friend, neighbor, co-worker or church member who will eventually learn about the care the patient received.

In 2008, one survey showed that 50% of new referrals came from patients who had positive care giving experiences. Only one-fourth of the referrals were from physicians in the community. Word of mouth can be the most uplifting tool to increase a health care system’s image as a reputable place to get well…or, it can be its worse enemy, because once the word spreads that tells a tale of bad service, it is very difficult to get that image out of people’s minds. Excellent health care service avoids having to do that to begin with.

Two Registered Nurses

Daughter, Christa-RN, (Home Health), and  Denise, RN, (hospital staff), are always looking for ways to improve customer service
Daughter, Christa-RN, (Home Health), and Denise, RN, (hospital staff), are always looking for ways to improve customer service | Source

How to Improve Customer Service

Here are some important ways to provide excellent customer service in health care:

1. Think of the ‘patient’ as a ‘client’ or customer.

2. On the first encounter: SMILE-a friendly affect goes a long way, especially when emotions tend to run high when there are health issues at stake.

3. Ask your client how she would like to be addressed, and then honor that. When introducing her to other staff let them know of her preference. (On a personal note: whenever I admit a new patient to the unit I observe if they request the use of a nickname and add that to the patient roster, making a point to communicate this information to the oncoming shift).

4. Explain ALL procedures, especially if it is a first time experience.

5. Ask if there are questions-be sure to take the time to answer them and if you do not know the answer, seek the answer or its resource.

6. When dealing with minor patients under the age of 18, talk directly to the child or teen, along with the parents or guardians. This gives an air of respect to the client, as well as ensuring a greater level of participation from the child/teen, in the treatment procedures.

7. Show compassion-this builds trust and a rapport. There is a greater appreciation for understanding and empathy, over task-oriented busyness, which is felt by the client.

8. Be aware of your client’s needs. If he is in the doctor’s office for an extended time period offer a compensation of some sort. The patient will be much more forgiving and it increases the chances for a higher rate of return, along with a positive word of mouth. One way I attempt to be sensitive to a patient’s needs when they have had several hours of waiting in the Emergency room before transferring to our floor, is by checking with the RN who is caring for this person to determine if they were served a meal while they were in that department. I am always surprised at how often this simple, but basic, need is neglected. That allows me to anticipate a need on his arrival to our unit, and preparation to have something on hand.

9. Be friendly, but maintain professionalism. Even if you know the person you are caring for on a personal level, remember that they are there for medical reasons and not social ones.

10. Engage the patient in participating in her treatment; offer choices; carefully listen to what is being said and accommodate, or give thorough reasons and explanations as to why this cannot be met. The more a client/patient actively participates in her treatment, the greater the outcome of satisfaction will be.

11. Provide a safe and comfortable environment of care. Many patients complain of the impersonal, cold treatment that they receive. They are asked personal information; they are often expected to sit in rooms with few cloths or just a paper gown on; they are poked, prodded and palpated, and frequently with cold equipment and little explanation on what to expect. Taking these needs into consideration will improve customer satisfaction.

12. Whenever entering a patient’s room, KNOCK. I can’t begin to tell you how often this simple gesture of politeness and respect is ignored or forgotten.

13. When first meeting a new client: INTRODUCE YOURSELF. Don’t expect the person to take a ‘tell all’ attitude towards the questions you ask while never knowing who the interviewer is! While most physicians have little qualms about doing this, but I have had many experiences as a patient in a new office in which the nurse or medical technician comes in and gets busy taking my vital signs and information, but never introduces herself.

14. Ask your client if there is anything more you can do for them before leaving the interview or treatment room-and then follow up with the request.

15. Thank the client for his time.

Health Care Customer Service Poll

In your experience, do you feel that there is enough customer service provided in health care?

See results

Four Customer Service Tips based on the FISH Philosophy


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