Patient Experience: What can be learned from Newts? (not Gingrich)

The smartphone’s screen showed “incoming call.” I thought the message was superfluous. I tossed the phone on the hotel room bed and headed off to dinner with my colleagues. Returning two hours later, I was headed for bed. That was when the beeping started. I turned my head and was eye to eye with the clock radio. The alarm, I thought. But whichever button I tried, the beeping continued. I unplugged the radio. Beep, beep. Turning the radio over I found the secret compartment that help the backup batteries, removed them, and tossed them aside. Beep, beep.

I have never been accused of being patient or tolerant. I was tired, and the alarm clock was possessed. I slipped it between the mattress and the box spring, and the beeping continued. I caught a glimpse of my face in the mirror. The impression I got was of a man dressed in dark clothing, who drove an old Chevy panel van, the windows spray-painted black, the back seats removed. Heavy-gauge wire mesh screening blocked off the back of the van from the driver. If you were an FBI profiler you would probably have me high on your Top-10 Most Wanted list.

That is a shame, for all I wanted was sleep. As I pulled the pillow over my head, I heard something flop to the floor. My cell phone. The low battery indictor flashed red. And my phone went beep, beep. Who’da thunk it?

So, where did we leave off? We made an argument for closing the call centers and an argument for deleting the website. One might think my mission here is complete; not so fast Skippy.

People—your customer people and your patient people—want to communicate with your health system. A health system is many things, one of which is that it is very, very complex. The part that is overlooked is that not all of the health system needs to be complex.

Suppose you are an executive at a health system and somebody calls you at your home wanting to know how much they owe you for the work you did repaving their driveway during your spare time. The phone rings and rings. The caller gets a message stating that the estimated wait time is fifteen minutes. They hang up and dial again. They ask you a question to which you do not know the answer. You transfer the caller to someone else in your family on the off-chance that your daughter’s, niece’s cat may know the right answer.

The cat looks bemused. The caller looks you up on LinkedIn, Facebook, and on your website, The website provides a lot of information about cats, about the benefits of repaving your driveway, and about things you can purchase at the feline-repaving gift-shop.

Not very helpful. It leaves the caller thinking that the next time they need to repave their driveway they will call someone else. The caller remembers to tell his neighbor to get his driveway repaved from Joe’s Taxidermy and Repaving instead of calling you.

A lot of readers are mumbling to themselves, Paul, you are out of your mind and you have no understanding of how healthcare functions. We can turn a newt into an ear, and we can transplant a face. Indeed you can, and that is a good thing. And the surviving newts are frightened, and the recipients of the transplanted faces are grateful. The thing is, I concern myself with the parts of healthcare that do not function. Blocking and tackling. Basic, very basic, business functions.

If the newts cannot get your health system on the phone, if they cannot access your health system online, if they cannot talk to a nurse, or pay their bill or, schedule a newt checkup, the newts will be disappointed. The newts will find an organization that does not disappoint them, one that does not make them work hard to buy healthcare

The thing is, this is a really silly analogy. The other thing is, it really isn’t.

A board member of a major Philadelphia hospital told me recently, We do not have customers, we have patients.

I replied, I wouldn’t loose sleep over the distinction because pretty soon you won’t have either.   A less optimistic person would think that hospital would never be one of my consulting clients. I beg to differ because I have never met a pessimistic newt.

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