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Self-service technology can improve customer experience

By John Cray / Special to Healthcare Facilities Today
February 4, 2015

Despite the numerous healthcare reform checkboxes clinicians need to pay attention to, providing great customer service should still be at the top of the list.

Making an appointment to see a doctor isn't what it used to be. Many preferred providers have waiting lists that begin at two months out. And, when you finally arrive an your appointment, you can expect an hour-plus wait in the lobby as healthcare practitioners are entering data into their electronic health systems in real time to comply with Meaningful Use mandates. 

Despite the fact that many physicians and clinicians believe they're receiving the brunt of healthcare reform by having to provide more documentation to insurance companies in exchange for lower reimbursements, there's much that can be said about the negative trickledown effect on the patient experience.

In addition to lengthy waiting periods mentioned earlier, the process leading up to the appointment, including navigating annoying IVR systems, followed by higher insurance premiums and deductibles make for a truly frustrating experience that most patients try to avoid at all costs. 

Although many healthcare providers have the supply and demand balance tipping in their favor, they shouldn't forget that the principles of customer service still apply. And, in today's connected world, those healthcare practices that figure out how to provide expert healthcare and a good customer experience will be the big winners in the long run.

As forward-thinking healthcare firms re-focus their efforts on the experience for their patients and members, business leaders are turning to technology to help them make positive strides. Following are two technologies healthcare practices should keep top of mind for their 2015 healthcare IT planning.

1. Self-service

Some may think self-service is just a retail thing. But, the truth is that this technology is extremely applicable to healthcare. For example, self-service technology can eliminate (or at least reduce) time spent in waiting rooms, as one urgent care facility in Texas discovered. It implemented a self-serve solution called QLess, which allows patients to wait in line virtually from their home computers or while on the go via their smartphones. Patients are told how many other people are ahead of them and given an estimate of when they will be able to see a doctor, allowing them to stay home until they need to get to the clinic. 

According to Lisa Ratner, the executive director at the urgent care facility, patient wait times dropped from two hours (during the busiest periods) to just a few minutes and patient satisfaction improved 20 percent!

A recent study from 451 Research revealed that 87% of customers would prefer to use a visual IVR to complete their appointment scheduling requests faster and be able to seamlessly transfer to a live person without having to repeat their information. Connected consumers also indicated they are highly interested in mobile click-to-chat and click-to-call — especially if it reduces/eliminates waiting on hold, repeating information, and being transferred to multiple people.

2. Proactive, personalized care

Most of the care patients receive in a hospital is generic and impersonal at best. One hospital that's bucking that trend is the Carolina Medical Center, which is combining personalized care and social media feedback tools. The hospital provides patients with educational videos via their bedside TVs to learn more about their medical condition. Additionally, patients can provide feedback to specific departments within the hospital and inform the dietary staff, for example, about particular food needs or dislikes. The hospital reported that more than 90 percent of patients use the technology and an independent survey found that the hospital's performance improved 50% since it started offering the service.

Both examples above require, first and foremost, a vision from healthcare providers to look beyond the minimal requirements of Meaningful Use regulations and a willingness to ask: “How can we improve patient care?” And secondly, it's critical for providers to realize that providing this type of service requires more than purchasing IVR, Web chat, and other mobility apps and platforms. There's still a human element involved — often behind the scenes — responding to SMS and other messages and delivering the personalized care mentioned earlier. To do it right, healthcare providers need to think through the design of their contact centers and avoid the outdated mindset of treating these centers as “cost centers” by hiring the cheapest labor and equipping agents with insufficient tools. 

Physicians and clinicians play an invaluable role in helping their patients lead healthier and longer lives. Why not take the extra step and help patients lead happier lives, too? Not only is this extra step a noble aspiration — it's quickly becoming a business imperative, too.

John Cray is vice president of product management for Enghouse Interactive.

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