HAS SERVICE BECOME A JOKE FOR AIRLINES?
This was the recent headline in the national media after a series of harrowing experiences were reported by flyers across the country. Soon followed news of a doctor getting de-planed, allegedly for complaining about mosquitoes in the aircraft; prompting a leading journalist to tweet; “Airlines will never treat passengers with respect because we don’t stop using airlines that push us around. We just look for the cheapest fare or the best deal.” Ironically, it’s not too long since a leading politician invited much ire for equating Doctors with Pilots.
Let those opinions be as it may; but it certainly triggered my thoughts on the service levels in our industry of healing. The Indian healthcare system has many layers, each having diverse and multiple challenges. Let me just focus today on the tertiary-care segment that offers highly sophisticated medical care, and is dominated by private hospitals and institutes.
Best Service is No Service
In the office conference room, while waiting for other participants to join, colleagues assembled already were chatting about the recent acquisition of the food delivery company ‘Foodpanda’ by the ride-hailing platform ‘Ola.’ In fact such seemingly divergent integrations are becoming increasingly common, with the objective to gain customer insights and provide seamless services. Internet of Things (IOT), e-Commerce and Social Media have transformed customer behavior and expectations. No longer are customers willing to tolerate long waits, slow response times or poor service. This brings me to highlight some interesting quotes shared by colleagues on their recent experiences at tertiary-care hospitals.
Robotic Front-office: “It’s 9am on a Saturday and I walked into this leading eye hospital for an OPD consultation for my parent. After a brief wait, they started calling patients to all six counters, each managed by a lady. As I stood by the assigned counter, there was an extended hand asking me to hand over the patient file. The lady never even looked up once or tried making eye contact, and I felt like standing in front of a wall. As she was flipping through the files, and with nothing else to do, I looked on either side. All the counters were having patients or their family members in queues and it was the same story everywhere. It seemed the ladies at the counters had forgotten how to smile at the customer. My thoughts were suddenly interrupted by a voice from the other end of the counter that asked for the consultation fees to be paid. After some more minutes of ‘face-less’ interactions, I took the payment receipt and left the counter. While walking towards the OPD, I kept wondering that in a modern world where everyone worries about Robots & Artificial Intelligence replacing human jobs, wouldn’t it be better to have kiosks installed by the hospital than have such stone faced characters at the counter”
Chaotic Pharmacy: “My experience at the pharmacy of this multispecialty hospital drains the last straw of patience from patients. The pharmacy is often crowded with patients or their attendants painstakingly waiting for their prescription (Rx) to be filled. On navigating through the crowd and presenting your Rx, a person ticks on the medicines that you wish to refill. After this, a token number is provided and then the wait begins, eagerly looking for your number to flash on the digital screen. The long wait allows one to be amidst the moans of fellow patients. I identified that there is as much chaos on the other side of the glass panel as is on the patients’ side. Everyone including the billing clerk is seen running helter-skelter collecting medicines from the shelves for more than one prescription simultaneously. Evident lack of coordination delays the appropriate medicines to be brought to the billing clerk for billing. Additionally, the bar codes provided by most packages are not utilized to enable swift billing. The anxious attendant or the ailing patient unable to tolerate the delay walks up and down to the counter many times inquiring about his Rx.”
Many a time, even if from a medical point of view the patient visit to a hospital is a success, the overall satisfaction rates remain low. The incidents narrated above are typical examples. Leadership teams often talk about the concept ‘Best service is No service.’ That means working towards a goal of “No Service” by proactively identifying customers’ needs and resolving issues before they affect customers. Even healthcare is not immune to such ideas.
‘C’ for Chocolate
As you would have experienced, the patient journey in a private hospital OPD will have various touch points like appointment scheduling, front-office registration, preliminary evaluation, lab work, doctor consultation, pharmacy visit etc. Like it or not, there is an increasing trust-deficit between patients and the healthcare system today with reports suggesting a violent turn of events at times. As per Bogner’s Handbook of Human Factors and Ergonomics in Healthcare; everyone and everything that can actively contribute to the healing process of the patient is called an ‘Actor’. An actor can be any person (family member/doctor), product (medical equipment) or service (pharmacy/insurance).
Dr. Jerome Groopmann in his best seller ’How Doctors think’ talks about the “three C’s” that a patient seeks from healthcare provider; Critical reasoning, Communication and Compassion. While state-of-the-art infrastructure, clinical protocols & competence of medical professionals are all important, let’s not ignore the power of communication & compassion at every human interface during healing. There’s no doubt that communicating the reasoning behind the diagnosis is doctor’s responsibility. Even if for a moment we assume doctors are indeed pilots, let’s acknowledge that the check-in counters, security clearance, boarding process and aircraft comfort are all critical for a seamless and satisfactory journey. The doctor will remain the chief actor in the healing process but ‘care’ is what anyone walks in to a hospital for, and every ‘actor’ in the system should be aligned to that.
Chocolates are awesome!!! Nothing else probably brings on instant smiles and conveys care & love like chocolates. Imagine our hospitals being Five-star Chocolate-factories through the patient journey!!!
The author is Co-founder & Director @ BioQuest Solutions Pvt. Ltd, a Bangalore based MNC that has been partnering with clients across the life-sciences knowledge value chain since 2005.