Patient Access: Strike 3, You’re Out!

Equating patient satisfaction with exceeding their expectations is equivalent to equating cosmology to cosmetology. A major reason for the disconnect is providers equate their HCAHP scores as the primary or sole metric for patient satisfaction without ever bothering to see whether those scores matter to their patients. Patient satisfaction has almost no relationship to patient loyalty.

Although patients who call your health system may be satisfied with the result of their call, they are disappointed that they had to call to have their needs met.  Not a single patient ever told a hospital administrator that they selected the hospital because of its HCAHP score or because of the pleasant experience they had calling the hospital.  People do not want to have to call your health system any more than you want to call Comcast or Aetna.  Calling requires effort, and effort makes people look for an easier alternative.

Sixty percent of the people who call a provider are calling because they could not solve their problem by going to the provider’s website.  Strike 1. The fact that the vast majority of provider call centers are really just scheduling centers further erodes patient loyalty. This happens because only about twenty percent of the calls are about scheduling.  The other eighty percent of the calls have to be transferred.  Strike 2.  The average caller has to make more than two calls to have their needs met.  Strike 3.

Let’s consider an example.  Suppose the marketing department launches a campaign to acquire new patients, or to get current patients to purchase a new service—appendectomies half-off.  Now nobody seems to know what it costs to acquire a new patient, but let’s assume that it is not cheap.  The prospective patient sees the marketing campaign on a billboard or hears about it on NPR or sees a flyer taped to the door of a hospital elevator.

That person goes to the provider’s website to sign up for the service, but there is no information about the campaign online.  Strike 1.  They call one of the many numbers on the provider’s homepage and ask Sally about the campaign.  Sally does not know about the campaign and transfers the caller.  Strike 2.  Pete answers the transferred call.  Pete works in radiology and has no idea why the call was transferred to him.  Strike 3.  The provider struck out, and chances are good that the person who called will not call again because calling requires too much effort.

Providers create loyal patients by solving their problems quickly and easily.  What does the term ‘easy’ mean in context of this discussion?

The provider’s perspective of easy: We make it easy for you to solve your problem. We give you a number to call—they usually give you dozens of numbers to call—and we give your 45 hours during which you can call.

The patient’s perspective of not easy: Our only alternative is to call, and we can only call Monday through Friday from 8 A.M. until 5 P.M.

What do patients and prospective patients—consumers—consider access easy?

  • Contact at any time
  • Contact on any channel; web, phone, chat, email

Eliminating the requirement that people have to call your organization to meet solve their problem also solves their single greatest complaint about their experience.  Not having to call once eliminates the need of them having to call more than once.

Many health system executives believe their website offers patients an easy alternative to calling to solve their problems.  Having a link reading ‘Schedule an appointment’ that simply provides a form for someone to complete to ‘Request an appointment’ does not actually let the person schedule an appointment.  Neither does ‘Request your Health Record’ if it only takes you to another form.

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