By Jim Higgins, Solutionreach
“Happy to help!” “I can see how frustrating that process must be.” “How would you prefer to be contacted?” These are some of the most common phrases taught to today’s customer service personnel seeking to create positive interactions with customers. It’s easy to see how such messages are quickly making their way into the healthcare world as well. In fact, healthcare has recently seen a massive shift away from its traditional origins and toward more of a consumer-based, service-focused industry.
Today’s patient interactions are best viewed through the same lens of customer service as other industries. One study from McKinsey showed that patients value good customer service from providers and have similar expectations for customer service from healthcare providers as they do from retail or the service sector. With the healthcare industry being as complex as it is, however, this customer service lens is quite larger than those in other industries. This requires the use of the latest in technology throughout the patient life cycle.
What tools are the most effective in the customer service battle?
- Two-way texting. Look around. Pretty much everyone has a smartphone. And what are they often doing on those phones? Texting. Experts say that texting is the most commonly used form of communication. And we want to not only text with our friends and families, but with businesses as well. It is estimated that every month, people send over 1 billion messages to businesses. It’s no wonder 73 percent of patients want to text with their healthcare providers—and not just the basic appointment reminders, but real, two-way texting. Fortunately, with modern technology, it is possible for patients and healthcare organizations to text back-and-forth while still saying HIPAA compliant.
- Text to pay. Payment (or lack of) has become one of the defining issues of 21st century healthcare. In fact, 72 percent of providers say that it is their top concern. And three out of four providers say that it takes at least a month or longer to collect from patients. Making payment easier and more convenient for patients not only improves the chances of receiving payment, but boosts patient satisfaction as well. Remember our love of texting? It comes into play here as well. One of the most effective ways to collect payment is by sending balance alerts via text message along with a way for them to access a secure payment screen and complete the transaction using a debit, credit, HSA, or FSA card.
- Online scheduling. The freedom to grab an appointment time whenever and wherever they want is one of the biggest things patients are asking for—studies show that 77 percent of patients want to be able to book their own appointments. Online self-scheduling tools give patients the ability to view the physician’s schedule online, at a time that is convenient for them, and then compare it to their own schedules. This minimizes the need for rescheduling, eliminates phone calls, and reduces frustration for patients and staff. And with the average scheduling call taking eight minutes, those calls can quickly add up to hours spent on the phone for staff. By providing patients the option to schedule their own appointments, you not only make them happier but make life a lot easier for staff as well.
- Last-minute waiting list. The last-minute cancellation can throw off your schedule, disrupt the flow of your day, and hurt your bottom line. Implementing a waiting list for last-minute cancellations addresses this issue while improving patient satisfaction as well. When a patient cancels their appointment, you can instantly send a message to those patients on your waitlist with the available date and time of the appointment. Those patients can then notify you if they are interested in and available to take the appointment. Providing this service builds goodwill with your patients, demonstrating to them that you can be flexible and accommodating.
- On-going education. We’ve probably all heard about how patient education is key to helping patients be more compliant with treatment and in improving outcomes. But did you know that educational information from their healthcare organization also improves patient satisfaction levels? Research shows that 92 percent of patients say that they feel more connected to their healthcare organization after receiving digital patient education. Sending regular educational pieces, targeted to individual patients, can seem daunting. Fortunately, most of this educational content can be automated and technology can be used to place patients into different categories for you. It is worth the effort!
Today’s consumer-driven healthcare industry is not going anywhere. Patients who do not get the service or technology they expect from their provider will simply move on. One in three patients say that they are considering leaving their provider and nearly 25 percent say it is due to poor service and experience. Healthcare organizations need to carefully examine the tools available to them in this journey. Doing so will not only optimize the healthcare experience for all of their patients but make life a little easier on themselves as well.
About The Author
Jim Higgins is the CEO and founder of Solutionreach. Since 2000, Higgins has innovated and guided the direction of the Solutionreach technology to meet all patient relation management needs of dental, vision, plastic surgery and medical practice specialties. You can follow him on Twitter at @higgs77.