By Alan Cherry
Healthcare providers and the sales reps who service them are part of the largest customer service industry in the world. The importance and urgency for providers and their suppliers to adopt a more customer-oriented mindset was the topic of Welch Allyn’s inaugural Patient Experience Summit this past fall.
For providers, customer service isn’t just limited to a patient’s interactions with their doctors and nurses. “It’s not just about how we interface with patients; it’s also about how we interact with each other,” said Jim Merlino, M.D., Cleveland Clinic’s chief experience officer. “There are things that we bring to what we do every day that are going to impact how we care for people.”
Providers are being slammed with changes in every direction. The brunt of these changes, such as declining reimbursements and the medical device tax, have directly affected the bottom line in every facet of the continuum. In response, hospitals are grouping up, physician groups are aligning themselves with provider systems, etc.
At the same time, consumers have more power than ever before. “Reform today is very different,” said Merlino. “It requires us to look at, and pay attention to [the patient quality survey]… it’s how we achieve our success.” The providers who will be the most successful are those that provide the best care experience, not just those who are the best at curing ailments, he said.
Suppliers take note
Likewise, successful distributors, manufacturers and sales reps will be those who provide the best overall experience for their customers – providers and provider systems, according to speakers. That will call for more transparency, particularly in pricing.
Suppliers will commit substantial resources to improving and maintaining open lines of communication with hospitals and health systems, said Steve Inacker, president, hospital sales & services for the Medical Segment of Cardinal Health. “[Cardinal’s] goal and mission is to make sure that we are doing everything we can to make healthcare more efficient and more cost effective, so that our customers – the caregivers – can spend more quality time with their patients.”
Suppliers can play a role, even though they may not be on the “front line” of providing a patient experience, Inacker continued. “[When] a patient can’t be rolled into the OR…because a product wasn’t available, we affect the patient wait time.”
Suppliers also need to communicate to people all across the care continuum. Once the trend of vertical integration settles down, provider systems will focus on horizontally integrating across their enterprise, said Mike Stoecklein, director of network operations, ThedaCare Center for Healthcare Value, Appleton, Wis. Models such as the Patient-Centered Medical Home will become the new industry standard, as providers look for ways to ease the hassle on patients.
Alan Cherry is editor-in-chief of Dail-E News, a daily electronic news source from MDSI, publisher of the Journal of Healthcare Contracting.