John Y. Brown, III: My Health Care Rant

My health care rant, albeit a restrained rant with a reasonable solution offered. (It’s different from what you might think. Really.)

Something is just wrong when the level of customer service a person gets at a car dealership trumps –in fact dwarfs—the level of customer service that same person can expect when seeking medical services at a hospital.

I am not trying to debate health care policy or criticize ACA/Obamacare. I am trying to discuss something simple, relevant and useful that is really apolitical and patient-centric.

Recently I have spent time in the only place I approach with more trepidation than going to a hospital—car dealerships. And with the intention of buying a new car. All things being equal I would have preferred to check into a medical facility to have routine blood work done.

But here’s what I experienced to my surprise and despite my reservations about car dealerships. At the car dealerships I was treated with some the most extraordinary “customer service” I have ever encountered in any professional transaction in my life. The employees at the car dealership anticipated my ever question, concern and desire—or was at least tried to. And then respond to it. If I had to rank them for “customer service’ I’d give them a solid and well earned “A” grade.

By contrast, my experience recently with “customer service” at hospitals and related medical facilities has been just the opposite. Don’t get me wrong. The hospitals eventually got the job done, as they almost always too. And in their defense they are under extraordinary stress and are over-extended and customer service has been more of a luxury or afterthought in their business. But does it have to really be that way?

Oh sure, there are the incentive arguments about the hospitals’ customer really being insurance companies and so on and so on and the impact of various healthcare policies further distancing the patient vs healthcare provider relationship. But who said customer service can’t extend to the person being interacted with as well as the effective payor? No one I know of.

Besides, I have always thought of healthcare as different from other businesses and industries. There is a slightly different mission in the healthcare profession (or should be) than just making money. People’s health is at stake. A higher calling is assumed that would suggest customer service wouldn’t be limited in the same narrow, linear way that would be expected in, say, a transaction at a shoe store or fast food restaurant. In other words, more than just a direct interest in the immediate paying customer.

When we discuss, debate and argue over health care policy we always seem to focus on issues like access, choice, who pays, what will be covered, what policy, what system, how much research, what technology, and the like. As we should, I emphatically add! But can’t we also add excellent customer service to the long list of expectations we have from healthcare providers?

A client’s (or patient’s) personal needs, wants, concerns and fears may not be as urgent or as weighty as the issues that surround all other services being delivered in the healthcare industry. And many, I will concede, do an admirable job with customer service already. But I doubt that most hospitals do as effective a job at customer service as the local car dealership just down the road. Or the nearest family restaurant. And that is disappointing. And I would contend that closing the customer service gap in healthcare facilities and expecting customer service that is almost attentive and patient/customer-focused as when we get our oil changed isn’t an unreasonable request. It is not about politics or policy. It is just a simple request for better service. Please.

And whoever realizes this in the healthcare industry and acts on it first and forthrightly will likely dominate the industry in the coming years regardless of who the most direct payor is. It’s just good business for the bottom line, too.

And because in the end, it is–as it should be– about the patient, not the insurer. And it is that person not their payor who is the real and most important customer.


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