Why Is ‘Waiting Time’ Healthcare’s Middle Name?


A recent Pew study of 813 men showed that three times as many men correctly identified the geometric shape on the left, a torus, than the number of men who correctly identified the shape on the right as that of an iron. Admittedly, many more men actually thought the shape on the left was called a doughnut, but the judges ruled that those men deserved partial credit.

A torus is a surface of revolution generated by revolving a circle in a three-dimensional space about an axis coplanar with the circle.

Guys, an iron is a three-dimensional shape that is pushed and pulled across a two-dimensional space that is coplanar with an article of clothing.

Most single men do not own an iron. Most married men know that there is an iron in their home, but it is not there by choice. Most guys, given the chance to examine an iron, if asked what design improvements they would make to the iron, would reply that they would begin by spackling the holes in the bottom—many of those same men would spackle the hole in the doughnut.

A few men may have tried to use the iron once. Some may have even given it a second go. But sooner or later every man compares the level of effort required to iron a piece of clothing to the level of effort required to call the dry cleaner. And then they remember why they never owned an iron.

Dry cleaning offers a simpler solution, and it provides a better user experience.

I cannot remember how long it has been since I sent a fax. There was a time when the ability to fax was a survival requirement for everybody who worked from a home office. I placed my fax machine right next to my printer. I set up a dedicated phone line for the fax. Ink and paper for the fax and the printer, and I modified my business cards to include my fax number. There were no Wi-Fi downloads of functional enhancements; what you bought was what you got.

The phrase, green side up, comes in handy if you are laying sod. I never learned which side of the page being faxed was supposed to face me. I probably destroyed more faxes than I sent. I’m sure I also had dozens of my faxes stored in the cache, never knowing why I did not hear back from the recipient. I got to the point where I found it easier to overnight a document than to fax it.

Then somebody much smarter than me created a phone from which I could take pictures of what I would have faxed. Through trial and error, I was able to learn how to email or message my document to a second party.

My fax has been in the closet for years. The printer is about to be relocated as well, both awaiting their fate at a forthcoming garage sale.

It turned out to be simpler solution, and it provided a better user experience.

Hardly any industries use faxes anymore; hardly any industry except healthcare.

Faxes are still survival equipment for healthcare, especially for providers. It surprised me to learn that many health systems receive and send thousands of faxes a week. I felt obligated to discover why people chose to fax their health system, especially since there seemed to be a simpler solution—calling.

As we both know, calling is not a simple solution. Hence, the high number of faxes. The more I studied the idea of faxing the more sense it made. The benefits, from a patient’s perspective include:

  • I can contact you 24 x7; not just when the call center is open
  • A fax provides an audit trail of our communication
  • It requires very little interpretation
  • It removes tone and attitude and focuses on the issue
  • I will never be placed on hold or transferred
  • I will never have to wait on hold

So, from the perspective of a good user experience, faxing checks off a lot of the good requirements. The most negative factor seems to be the lag time between when you send the fax and when you receive a reply. Tasks that actually require 5 minutes of work to complete can cover an elapsed time of 2-3 weeks. But remember, we are talking about healthcare were the term ‘lag time’ seems to be every organization’s middle name.

“Our Lady of Lag Time Medical Center.” Need to speak with a nurse? Leave a message. Want a refill? Call back during normal business hours. Complete the Contact Us section on our website—someone will reply to you in 2-3 days.

Do the benefits of faxing seem familiar to you? They should. They map almost one-to-one to the list of customer benefits that are the result of a good user-designed, mobile-first customer experience strategy. A remarkable experience, every time, at any time, and on any device. If you delete the word remarkable, the experiences are pretty similar.

The users created your fax strategy. If you do not come up with a better experience than a call center, do not be surprised if your customers create it for you. If all of a sudden you begin to receive a bunch of requests to schedule appointments using Palm Pilots, take that as a signal that you have lost the war.

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