Friday, June 17, 2011

In healthcare, as in life, it all comes down to relationships

Massive energy and activity is being invested into healthcare reform and many of our best and brightest leaders in government and industry are working to improve the state of healthcare.  The topics garnering headlines tend to be related to the escalating cost of healthcare, the availability of health insurance, and sophisticated government-led initiatives such as "meaningful use" of electronic health records by healthcare providers that is intended to reduce cost and improve care.

While all of this is important, I strongly believe the secret to improved healthcare is to focus on the age old concept of customer service.  If our healthcare organizations were focused primarily on providing outstanding service to customers (which would first require a cultural shift among many healthcare providers toward viewing patients as customers) the other issues, including reduced cost and improved quality of care would coincidentally be resolved.

What's that you ask?  How can you provide both better service and higher quality while lowering costs?  Let me give one simple example we can all relate to...

You arrive at your general practitioner's office for your annual checkup.  Upon arrival, you are greeted with a clipboard full of redundant paperwork you have filled out the last ten times you visited this establishment.  You fill out the paperwork, including your name, address, and phone number in three different places, and stand in line to give the paperwork to the registrar.  You are then asked for your insurance card and driver's license, both of which you have given previously, so those can be copied and placed into your file.  Plus, you sign a consent to treat, HIPAA privacy form, and a few other documents that you are not reading at this point so they may actually assign all of your assets to someone in Afghanistan for all you know.  All of these documents were previously signed and given to the office on multiple occasions, but alas you have now added yet another stack of paper to be placed in your physical file.

Not only is this process extremely inefficient, wasteful, and unnecessary, but more importantly, it is completely alienating to the patient.  How is it that I can walk into any retailer in the free world one time and later arrive at a different location on the opposite side of the country and they know who I am but the doctor I visit year after year can't figure out how to identify me?

Now let's say your general practitioner determines that pain in your knee requires an MRI and sends you next door to have that procedure done.  The clipboard and redundant paperwork greeting begins anew.

This same cycle repeats as you are routed through a disconnected chain of events that will hopefully result in you being better off than when it began.

The costs involved with this type of processing - and the associated paperwork, labor, and patient dissatisfaction - are massive.  Additionally, if you focus carefully on the customer, and meeting his or her needs in a manner that makes them feel like you actually know them as a person, the impact on risk of costly litigation which, unfortunately, creates massive costs to the insurers would be greatly reduced.  For it is not the best doctors who are sued least often but rather the doctors who have the best bedside manner.  In fact, the technical competence of the doctor, although crucial, is not the best indicator of the likelihood of litigation.

The bottom line is that above all else, treating every customer like they are your most important customer is the best recipe for success in any business.  This applies to healthcare just as it applies to retail or any other business aimed at achieving great outcomes due to their services.

Of course there are solutions to this challenge...

This massive need for a focus on excellence in customer service within the healthcare market was the inspiration behind our new hc1.com solution at Bostech.  hc1 ("Health Cloud One") provides a unique healthcare relationship management capability, delivered via the cloud in a software-as-a-service (SaaS) model, that allows a patient to register once and be easily identified everywhere throughout a healthcare network.  hc1.com also gets at managing relationships between healthcare organizations to promote continuity of care and higher quality such as in the exchange of information between labs and hospitals.

Thanks to new secure cloud computing capabilities, and the work of some of the most talented people I have ever known, hc1.com delivers these capabilities without the lab or healthcare provider having to purchase any hardware or software - eliminating the headaches that traditionally come from many IT related software purchases.

The good news is that many healthcare providers, labs, radiology groups, and organizations throughout the continuum of care are shifting their thinking toward providing outstanding client service.  I will share some first-hand examples of this in upcoming blog posts.

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