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How Bottom-Line Success is Really About Creating Top-Line Relationships in Healthcare

By Stewart Gandolf, Chief Executive Officer

Doctor drawing a magenta hollow heartHow the patient experience is increasingly vital to financial success in our changing healthcare delivery system. From large health systems to hospitals, to medical practices, relationships and satisfaction connect directly to the bottom line.

Professional practices, hospitals and virtually all healthcare providers of any size are increasingly aware that, like the retail business down the street, their task is not to simply make a "sale," their task is to create a bonded relationship.

"There's a growing recognition within the medical-industrial complex," writes attorney David Harlow in his HealthBlawg, "that the patient is a key element of the enterprise, and that patient satisfaction, patient experience, patient engagement, patient activation, and patient-centeredness are very important. Some research shows "patient activation yields better patient outcomes, and that patient activation can be measured."

And, we would add, satisfaction connects directly to the bottom line.

It's a given that healthcare practitioners want to provide good customer service. It's a people-service business. But the degree of their commitment to good service may depend on their ability to draw a straight line from good service to increased revenue.

In theory, good service should more than pay for itself. In theory, good service should be the source for new patients, profitable cases, and providing additional services to existing patients.

That's the theory. The reality is that some healthcare providers don't connect the dots, or they see excellent customer service more as an obligation than as a fundamental element of sound business. Here's why it's not just theoretical.

The voice of the patient speaks loudly in service terms. According to a nationwide NCR* study: 72% of consumers are more likely to choose a healthcare provider that offers the flexibility to interact via online, mobile and kiosk self-service channels over a provider that does not. 76% of consumers find waiting at a hospital or doctor's office the greatest frustration they face at a healthcare appointment.

All things being equal, 61% said they would choose one provider over another based on the appointment scheduling process. 62% of consumers expressed interest in booking or changing medical appointments online, through a mobile device or at a kiosk and receiving text message reminders of an appointment. 54% of consumers said the ability to book an appointment online would be convenient to them. 31% of consumers said it would be convenient to be able to pay outstanding balances online or via a mobile device.

The NCR bottom line reads: "By providing a positive patient experience, healthcare providers can build loyalty among existing patients while attracting new ones, resulting in increased patient volume."

There is more. "Patient loyalty also translates into serious revenue gains," according to Press Ganey Associates VP Deirdre Mylod, PhD. She told the Healthcare Financial Management Association, "By improving patient satisfaction, providers increase future patient volumes through existing patients and their personal networks."

What's more Medicare dollars will be tied to the patient satisfaction scores reported through the Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (CAHPS). As David Harlow put it: "In recent years, the federales have been measuring patient experience using the CAHPS surveys, and - coming soon to a bank account near you - there will be Medicare dollars tied to the scores on these questionnaires, not just dollars tied to the act of reporting scores."

So, what can you do now to deliver superior customer service, an exceptional patient experience, high marks in CAHPS surveys or a warm feeling of professional pride? For one thing, we have a training program that is tailored to healthcare providers and organizations of all sizes.

But, whether or not you look to us for guidance, we like the "Patients First" model at the Cleveland Clinic (from their Office of Patient Experience). Solo practice or mega health system, there's a valuable take-away for all of us in the 1921 creed of Clinic founder Dr. William Lower.

  • A patient is the most important person in the institution—in person or by mail.
  • Patients are not dependent on us—we are dependent on them.
  • Patients are not an interruption of our work—they are the purpose of it.
  • Patients are not outsiders to our business—they are our business.
  • The patient is not someone to argue or match wits with.
  • The patient is a person, not a statistic.
  • It is our job to satisfy them.

A positive and successful experience is found at the intersection of treating the patient AND treating the condition. And that's what makes a sound and successful business practice.

* Source: Are you ready to improve patient satisfaction and increase revenue? NCR Corp. 2009

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