Patient Experience: How Good is Good Enough?

A weekend news article in USA Today included the following text; The whale was missing a giant hole in its side.

Really? It was missing a hole. Not only was it missing a hole, it was missing a giant hole. Does the fact that the whale was missing a hole mean there was no hole? The thing is, I would think one of the qualifications for being a writer is the ability to write. Maybe USA Today has different standards.

If you read an article stating Wells Fargo misplaced a thousand two hundred and fifty thousand dollar loans, you might think that was pretty stupid of them. Where are the controls, you might ask? They incurred an expense to make the loans, now that money, like the money they lent is up in smoke.

If the Mercedes dealer could not find the truck that delivered eight new cars to them yesterday, you might think that was pretty stupid of them. They incurred an expense to make acquire the cars, now that money, like the money they would have made selling them is up in smoke.

If the hospital’s marketing campaign got a hundred new people interested in scheduling their annual wellness exams, and when those people called to make an appointment half of them could not schedule one, from what I see day in and day out, the apparent thought process is stuff happens. They’ll call back. Or will they.

The health system incurred an expense to acquire the new patients, now that money, like the money they would have made taking care of them is up in smoke.

Assets disappear.

If the health system lost four laptops this week, there would be a big meeting next week, Sally would bring the coffee and Joe would bring the bagels, and an action plan would be created so that no other laptops would go missing.

People design processes to ensure assets are retained and tracked. People—patient people (consumers) go missing. Too bad we cannot staple an RFID device to their foreheads to track them the way we attach inventory numbers to laptops. That way we would know who went missing and when.

According to my small mind, the lifetime value of a patient is between $180,000-$250,000 over twenty-five years. And where did these missing patients go? Chances are they did not decide to give up buying healthcare; they just decided to give up buying healthcare from the system that delivered the poor experience.

Where are the controls? Who is guarding the chicken coop?

So, just how good do access and experience have to be? One of my clients was only able to schedule appointments for about fifty percent of the people calling to schedule an appointment. Even their schedulers no long tried scheduling appointments for themselves. Hint: it has to be better than that. Is a good success rate 80%; 90%?

How often do you have to get it right? I know it sounds silly but since a health system is in the business of providing care, and since people cannot just walk in to the orthopedics clinic and say, “I need to get my hip replaced today, which doctor is available?” it would stand to reason that the health system should target getting scheduling right a hundred percent of the time.

The thing is, getting ninety percent of anything right would seem pretty good. And it is until you quit looking at overall figures and take it down to the level of the individual. Down to the level of the individual whose appointment was not scheduled. That person does not give a hoot about how dandily all of the other calls went.

And since only about twenty percent of the calls have to do with scheduling, it would seem to make sense to figure out how to get the other eighty percent of the calls right a hundred percent of the time.

So what else should we know about the problem before we try to fix it? The first people to talk to the new patient, the people who get them to believe that the callers are talking to the right institution about where they should place their trust for their health, are probably the lowest paid people in your institution. Chances are that nobody on the executive floor has ever met one of these call agents. Chances are that he call center is not a stop on the management-by-walking-around executive tour bus.

These people also have no tools to do their jobs. Or, they surely do not have the right tools to dot their jobs. Neither do the other people in your institution, the people who receive the other 80% of the calls, and the calls that are transferred to them by the people in your call center. I italicized call center because I am 83% sure that your health system does not have a call center.

I have to go to the call center. What is it? It is a big room, crammed full of people and phones. And worksheets, and maybe some kind of software.

It just occurred to me. The people who are the first people to talk to your new patients are often also the last people to talk to the people who wanted to become your new patients.

If you want to get this right, and you should, you should follow these simple steps:

  • Define an enterprise-wide patient access and experience strategy, at least for your inbound calls.
  • Ensure the strategy is uniform, especially with regard to scheduling. (But we do not do things that way! Doctors set their own rules about when they will see patients and what kinds of patients they will see. BIG HINT: NOT ANY MORE.)
  • Inventory all the different types of calls you receive.
  • Then define your processes and requirements for meeting those calls
  • Then create an RFP for a CRM solution, one you will use to receive calls
  • And allow the people answering the phones to chat online with people on your website, and allow them to use email—this is not anarchy, it really will help

Then sit back and relish in the fact that you now have a way to attract and retain patients.

It feels pretty good, doesn’t it?

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