Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Service of Health Care

Hospitals are, and always have been, service providers. Patients have a choice-in spite of some insurance restrictions-where they go for Emergency and elective procedures and care. Yet, some administrators still believe the patient needs the hospital, therefore, to concentrate on customer satisfaction is a mote point. Isn't it more accurate to say, though, that health care is a co-dependent relationship between provider and patient? Each needs the other. The patient needs what interventions the hospital is able to provide in a crisis and the facility needs the financial gain from disasters to fund their expenses. Health care is a booming business and for some, it is easy to shift the focus from placing the patients first, to capitalizing on profits. Sadly, in some hospitals, profit-driven mentalities has become an obsession.

In the July 2010 edition of Good Housekeeping, Melody Petersen hints at the profit driven reason behind the overuse of CT scans in her article Over Exposed. "Could there (be) a profit motive at work? The researchers raised that possibility in their report. Certainly imaging centers have become profit centers for many hospitals and physicians. Even doctors who aren't radiologists-cardiologists, gastroenterologists, orthopedists, and others-have installed CT scanners in their offices. And, having spent upwards of a million dollars on a device, they're going to find ways to cover their investment. Indeed, many physicians now count on the hefty fees they earn from scans for a significant portion of their income."

It seems as if the secret is out-not all procedures are ordered for the patients welfare or best interest. Hospitals and health care facilities are financially happy as long as the patient needs-or believes they need-the prescribed pill, procedure or treatment. It's an unsettling fact that to stay out of the red, hospitals need flu pandemics, accidents and acts of violence.

On the other hand, how awesome is our current technology that we no longer die from dehydration, a cut to the finger, or high blood pressure? Coming back from a shopping trip recently, I pulled over to the shoulder of the road to allow an ambulance to pass. Seeing the lights flashing and hearing the siren wailing as it passed reminded me that we don't lay in pools of sweat anymore, dying of fevers. High blood sugar doesn't automatically progress to comas, and a severed limb doesn't become gangrene overnight. To be able to bring medicine to the consumers front door is a luxury, even if the reason requires mandatory treatment.

The health care field has taken customer service above and beyond what Florance Nightingale envisioned. In the process and along the way, we also accumulated a lot of debt. The focus can't shift from patient care to debt elimination, though. By maintaining high service standards, repeat customers and reputation still remains the greatest asset to a medical facility.

There are some administrators that believe great customer service means getting to the bottom of a crisis in a timely manner, and treat ASAP. But as Scott Louis Diering states in his book Love Your Patients, "Quality care is more than excellent technical care. Good health care can only be delivered when we treat each patient as a person, not just some disease or complaint or injury." It's admirable to treat in a timely fashion. Your patients in the ER would really appreciate that endeavor. But along with that goal, remember they are people first, illnesses second. Don't talk down to the patient, or about them to another health care provider in their presence as if they don't exist. Learn to be passionate about showing compassion.

When I was in retail many years ago, a co-worker was having a rotten day and had no qualms taking it out on the customer. One feisty lady told her, "If you don't like what you're doing, get another job." In the same token, if as a health care worker you have a hard time treating the patient as a person instead of just a technical puzzle to figure out, get another job. At the end of the day, hospitals are customer service providers and need patient satisfaction to maintain their business. You can talk about profit margins and productivity all you want, but you won't have those problems to manage without a promising patient flow.

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