What Can You Learn About Patient Experience From USAIR?

It is snowing. Flight home cancelled.  My hotel room was cancelled, cancelled while I was still in it..

This is also happening for newly-minted MBAs.  Blizzard; no worries.  Smart phone, new reservations, care to join me for drinks?

I wonder how they would handle it the way we real men had to handle it in the days before Al Gore invented the internet.  Would they even know where to begin?

In the old days, when mastodons still roamed downtown Boston, a good snow storm meant you might not get home until the lawn needed mowing.  They way this mastodon remembers it, everyone in the cities affected by the storm would call the one phone number for the airline to see about rescheduling their flights.

If you could not extend your stay at your hotel, you were basically out of luck.  There was no way to Google the hotels in your zip code, there was no way to even know which hotels to call.  You would simply dial ‘411’ and start asking an operator to connect you with a hotel other than the one at which you are currently registered.

When that did not work, and after the bellman at your hotel tossed you onto the street, you would make your way to a copse of trees, hope you remembered your Navy SEALs training, and try to build a bivouac with your comb and toothbrush under the branches of a juniper bush.  As the snow fell in earnest you might fashion a pair mukluks from yesterday’s socks.  If you were really fortunate, you might still have a piece of adipose tissue—seal blubber—saved from the last time you were forced to play survivor.  That is how real men did it in the old days, in the days before the entire world started to function around the internet and mobile phones.

Segue.  Hospitals.  Was that a mastodon I saw in your lobby?  I just bumped into someone from IT and she dropped her computer punch-cards—you younger ones may have to Google the term.  In the last five years smart phones and the internet have changed how Americans conduct business; how we buy goods and services.

They have not, however changed how we interact with hospitals.  For those who still have phone books if you look up your hospital in the phone book you will see dozens of numbers to call.

Riddle me this Batman; which of those numbers are you supposed to call if you need to schedule a lab?  It depends.  Which number should you call for a refill?  It depends. For a follow up appointment?  And so forth and so on.

As a prelude to the snow while I slept last night, using the internet, US Airways did all of the following—cancelled my flight, messaged me to let me know the flight was cancelled, rebooked me on a flight, and sent me a message confirming my new seat.  In real-time, all while I slept.

Most hospitals cannot even schedule the original appointment using a phone, let alone reschedule it and send me a confirmation over the internet.  The mastodon model of patient access works as follows.  I call the hospital, am placed on hold, am asked for my referral, my authorization, my insurance.  Then I am transferred to someone else, am placed on hold, am asked for my referral, my authorization, my insurance.  I may get an appointment, I may not.

While I am on hold with the hospital I rebook my hotel, watch a movie on HULU, search eBay for a mastodon tusk, and show my dog a video to teach him how to shut the door.

I’m thinking this whole internet/smart-phone thing may have legs.

As a hospital, are you really comfortable offering less of a customer experience than an airline?

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