A Transcendent Difference
Customer vs. patient: a transcendent difference in hospitals
By: Sumedha Sen
Sweeping changes to the healthcare landscape are motivating administrators to prioritise the patient as a consumer. I have been in this genre since 1988! And way back then, we were screaming our lungs out to the staff that patients are NOT to be treated as 'consumers'. Thinking of patients as a "consumer" is a fairly recent concept.
Methodologies that can help healthcare providers to stay ahead of patient expectation is to have the ability to facilitate a 24/7 communication and access to data for which the patient information system has become essential
Why did this change take place?
It is the competition among service providers, which has intensified. The public puts the provider organisations under pressure to deliver services, which have (1) high-quality (2) cost-effectiveness and (3) pleasant consumer experience. Hospitals are seen as service providers and expectations are increasing to a level of customer service they receive in other industries.
Consumers want convenience, quality and speed, whether at the coffee shop or the doctor's office. Many hospitals are trying to meet these expectations and in turn have fallen into the trap — do hospital administrators not perceive that much more will need to be done to please today's "consumers"? Of course, they do. Most healthcare providers understand they need to provide a better customer experience, but certain obstacles can get in the way.
Technology is transforming how customers make buying decisions and purchase goods and services. The lack of tools to collect data, drive customer insights are some of the challenges to provide basic customer service, such as determining whether a patient would prefer a phone call or a text message for an appointment reminder. Whether a patient is fit enough to sit for a long period in the OPD. Whether a patient has the historical knowledge of family illness. Whether a patient has recent basic test results, etc. People show impatience in filling these data while they comply with others requiring the same.
Improving patient experience requires a shift among all employees in an organisation. What about the difference between staying at a five-star luxury hotel versus a smaller roadside one? At the five-star, every employee feels a responsibility to provide the highest level of customer service. There should be no star class for surgeries – every surgery should be performed at the highest level available whether in a 5 star or a small hospital. So, in a plush hospital, the responsibility of customer experience extends to each employee who interacts with the patients, from the physician to the receptionist answering a phone and of late even the security guard. This requires costly non-medical "architecture", which the patient more often than not, is unwilling to pay the 5-star hospital but will gladly pay at the 5-star hotel.
The line is thin
So now cometh the difference between customer service and patient experience. Do you see the line? It is so thin that there is a seamless transition from customer service to patient service, as in "to provide service quality and efficiency that result in customer satisfaction" and to go way beyond and create strong relationships with patients based on an emotional connection. And the good hospitals have been practicing this unconsciously in the past, which has made the patients consciously demand the same from all. Hospitals now need to stay a step ahead of the demand.
The downside of this is while the customer service may excel, the patient service often suffers. People, no matter how independent, want to be cared for when they are sick. They want safe, effective and timely clinical care.
Methodologies that can help healthcare providers to stay ahead of patient expectation is to have the ability to facilitate a 24/7 communication and access to data for which the patient information system has become essential.
For many, there is a desire to expand capacity to meet the evolving health needs of patient populations. At the same time, new entrants, such as urgent care centers and drugstores that provide health services, are creating new kinds of competition — and raising the bar for customer service in healthcare.
Furthermore, when a patient pays Rs. 100 for a service in the hospital, how much is for the medical service and how much for the "rest which the customer expects"?
Another time for this discussion.