PX for Medical Practices: Is it a Zero-Sum Game?

This is day one of a ninja whole life challenge I entered. I began it with an omelet of egg whites without the whites, a sweet potato sorbet, and two bottles of dehydrated water.  After breakfast I had a massage; my first.  The room looked like an organic bookstore, and smelled of a collection of herbs and oils from the Far East, perhaps as far east as Newark. The CD played an infinite loop of soft sounds that reminded me of a yak herder and a wood nymph playing panflutes in the Andes, who I imagined was wearing a poncho woven by vegetarians, made from hand-carded wool of Peruvian alpacas.

Apparently, forty-thousand people have enrolled in the health challenge. I am willing to bet that I will be the only one needing a mulligan on day one as I am headed to an all-you-can-eat crab feast for dinner. Perhaps the fact that I will be eating seafood means I can collect a bye.


Around seventy percent of all interactions between a medical group and a person—patient/customers—occur on the phone. Not really surprising except for the fact that many medical groups and health networks treat patient experience as a poor stepchild, especially when it comes to the people on the phone.

So let’s say that thirty-percent of the interactions, those done in-person at the medical group provide an unbelievably good experience.

The other seventy percent of interactions are a combination of random experiences that provide the caller with levels of satisfaction such as:

  • “Our office is closed at the moment…”
  • “We are at lunch between…”
  • “May we call you back?”
  • “May we put you on hold?”
  • “Dr. Roemer is not accepting new patients.”
  • “We do not do refills over the phone.”
  • “The person who handles billing is out today”
  • “Can you arrive early to fill out the forms? No, they are not available online.”

Is it really cheaper to invest so little in the experiences provided on the phone? Do providers have such a hold on their past patients that those patients would never consider going somewhere else?

Many executives continue to look at calls and callers as a cost or cost-center. Many of those same executives spend money to make outbound calls to attract patients. It is a zero sum game to attract patients only to send them away. Here is another one of Roemer’s Immutable Laws:  Calls and callers are not a cost. A poor call experience is.

Some health networks approach improving the situation the same way they handle improving their HCAHPS scores—they hire a firm to try to throw a little water on the problem; they hire a consultant and coach. And what do the expensive consulting firms and coaches do for them? From the confines of my small mind I would say not much.

For the most part, coaches sell smiles. When you are speaking with someone on the phone, make sure they hear you smile. Now there’s a value-add.  Here’s another one of Roemer’s Immutable Laws: A smiling phone agent is worth less than zero if the agent puts you on hold, transfers your call, or gives you the wrong answer.

Many call center consultants will attempt to solve your problems by telling you your solution can be found by adding technology and speed—efficiency. Too many people are on hold and too many people are abandoning the call—disconnecting. If that is how they view the symptoms they will propose one of two solutions—hire more agents (to spread the workload) or have your call center agents, the people answering the calls, talk less, thereby allowing them to talk to more people.

Neither of those answers will improve the experience for the callers.  What will improve their experiences are the following:

  • Design the caller’s experience
  • Give the people answering the phones the tools they need to provide the caller with the right information
  • Add a self-service IVR to allow callers to get what they need without having to speak with someone
  • Offload certain call types to the web to allow callers to do what they need without having to call you

Or, you can simply give callers the phone number for the Minute-Clinic.

Please consider joining  the LinkedIn group, Patient Experience Think Tank https://www.linkedin.com/groups?home=&gid=8155124

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