The following is a guest post by Ron Troy. Ron Troy is a MBA, IT professional, and someone who has spent far too much time in hospitals for not actually working in them (since his teens)!
One of the topics in the ONC based HealthIT training I’m currently going through is Customer Service.
It’s arguable that customer service in a hospital setting is a bad joke with some exceptions. Hospitals are all about processing as many patients as possible with as little in the way of resources as possible to keep down costs while maximizing revenues. Patients don’t so much pick a hospital as an emergency or a doctor picks one for them, and hospital management and staff know that.
Consider the ER experience from a patient view point. Assuming you didn’t come by ambulance and are not having a heart attack or profusely bleeding, a triage nurse takes some info and tells you to sit – if you can find one of the worn out uncomfortable seats. I did this once for several hours with a hot, painful appendix! Eventually someone calls you over for your insurance info, and you then go back to find your seat gone. So, you are in pain, uncomfortable, maybe bleeding (but not too bad); eventually you will get called in and put on a hard as rock stretcher – probably on the side of a narrow hallway. Within just a few hours someone will take your vitals, a doctor will eventually show up, some tests will be done, and you finally get some treatment or told you will someday be admitted or taken to the OR. You are now desperately thirsty, hungry, and in more pain! And that’s just the ER!
Upstairs, rooms are noisy with alarms (EKG, IV pumps, etc.) that only patients seem to hear. You finally fall asleep only to be woken up for a sleeping pill or to get your BP taken. For the first few days you get food chosen by someone else – never what you want, you get your first menu to fill out when you are about to be discharged. Once in a while a doctor comes in to say hello, and later you discover you owe the guy hundreds for that hello!
I could go on, but this is hardly ‘customer service’. Or by the definition of a HealthIT lecture, a good example of poor service. You may get excellent health care, maybe your IV’s that are supposed to be continuous are not allowed to run out and maybe they don’t keep stopping, but you have only lousy memories of the experience.
Many years ago, I worked for a while as Assistant Director of Housekeeping at Doctor’s Hospital in Manhattan (now part of another hospital). You walk in the main lobby and you think you are in a luxury hotel. It is very quiet and calm – one could refinish the floor there mid day and not cause a problem (but you would never do so). The floors themselves are also very calm and quiet. The basic food is good, but you can order actual room service quality food (complete with tux clad waiter) if you want. Patient care is very good, and when you want to sleep at night, odds are you will be in a quiet room in a good hospital bed. You won’t pick up any new bug – the place is way too clean for that.
I don’t expect all that in today’s hospitals, but they could sure learn something about how patients get better faster when calm and quiet and comfortable and decently fed! HealthIT can assist in that – especially when hospital IT gear is inter connected. EKG monitors, IV pumps, blood oxygen sensors and the like popping up flags on the nursing station big monitors and nurses’ pads or laptops instead of alarms shrieking all over the place. A new patient arrives, gets handed a pad (if they are up to it) to note meal preferences, desire for TV and phone. It can even take their credit cards to pay for the extras. Better yet, a touch screen TV / terminal at each bed- press the ‘call nurse’ button and someone pops up on screen (and they can see you and talk to you) and you tell them in a low, plain voice what’s wrong. Then the right person can come to help. And if you really want to push the envelope, that screen can have a button to press that will show you what tests, doctors visits and more you are scheduled for, and about when! Nice – you can tell prospective visitors what your EXPECTED schedule is! And you might even let your patient see a view of test results (and when the doctor will be available to discuss them).
The point being; customer service in hospitals can be good, and can even make the hospital more cost effective! It can even help the patient to be part of the healing process. And HealthIT can be a part of that – though a customer service attitude would really help too!