Revolutionizing Service Culture in the Healthcare Industry
By Ron Kaufman
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Why a Paradigm Shift is Needed and How to Get One Started
What’s happening in the industry?
In recent years the healthcare industry has undergone – and continues to undergo—massive changes. Treatment options have grown rapidly. Patients know more about health, disease, treatments, and wellness than ever before. An unprecedented surge of medical information is available online. Yet the enthusiasm this progress suggests must reckon with the reality of rising costs and shrinking budgets. Doctors, patients, medical establishments, and nations are seeking ways to maximize health outcomes while minimizing costs.
Healthcare organizations must partner more closely with their patients, with organizations in the public sector, and with each other, to deal with the new challenges and expectations. For example, healthcare organizations today are expected to create and maintain electronic health records and patient information, while protecting privacy and ensuring access only to qualified parties.
Healthcare organizations must also change the way they deliver service and create value for customers. Providing consistently excellent service to patients is no longer just a “nice to have” enhancement. Rather, it’s a matter of competitiveness and even survival. New pay and reimbursement models demand it. Governments and private payers are now linking reimbursement to patient perception of care as well as to mandated clinical outcomes, documented levels of quality, and cost-savings. For example, in the USA, government reimbursement for inpatient care is now directly connected to each hospital’s patient survey responses, which are also publicly reported.
This transparency is one more reason for providing excellent service. Patients today are better informed than any previous generation. They expect faster access to medical professionals, more convenient transactions, better efficiency in processes, and more knowledgeable and caring service providers. Meanwhile, more patients are selecting new medical service providers based upon the opinions shared by others.
Patients want high-performing healthcare organizations: those that save lives, restore health and provide positive experiences of uplifting service. Patient loyalty is now determined as much by quality of service as much as by medical outcomes. Actually, patients tend not to make a fine distinction between the two.
The good news is that great service and perceptions of clinical quality go hand in hand. Current research confirms that hospital quality metrics improve as patient experience scores improve. The bad news is that medical providers cannot thrive today solely on medical excellence; building a reputation for service excellence is also required.
What’s needed to succeed?
All of us – governments, industries, healthcare systems, and the individuals who work inside them – will need to change the way we think about what it means to truly serve patients, to serve families, and to serve each other in the health care community.
Healthcare providers must create conversations in which patients feel respected and included, as opposed to simply prescribing and telling. Organizations will need to cede more control to patients and partner with them to make better choices. Those who listen well and can provide clear, effective, and ongoing communication will be most successful.
Serving patients will be less about performing surgeries and prescribing pills, and more about educating them on important practices like good nutrition, sufficient sleep, and regular exercise. This will require partnering more closely with employers in workplace wellness programs, and with educators in our schools. Fortunately, as consumers become more aware and health conscious, they will be more likely to appreciate the value of these proactive health services.
On a macro level, we must find new ways to address the needs of our growing and aging populations. As people live longer they tend to develop chronic conditions and illnesses: heart disease, high blood pressure, cancer, diabetes, etc. Treating such these patients can be hugely expensive and often unsuccessful. Our focus will need to shift away from treatment of symptoms too late, and towards early prevention on a more consistent basis.
In cases where prevention is too late or unsuccessful, there must be an increased focus on total care, and not isolated diagnosis and treatment. This means improved collaboration within each healthcare organization – for example, patients can no longer be bounced from one specialist to another without a strong connection. It also requires better coordination with external partners – for example, working closely with in-home care providers to ensure higher levels of patient compliance and lower frequency of emergency care.
Finally, great service must be delivered consistently with every employee, every patient, and in every encounter – whether face-to-face, over the phone, online, or in a printed report. Making this happen isn’t just a matter of getting the right processes and procedures in place – it requires that every physician, clinician, and staff member understands what delivering excellent service really means and wants to provide it.
That desire to serve – and serve well in a changing world – must be rooted deep in the organization’s culture. The commitment to create excellent medical outcomes and experiences must drive every decision and every action taken. For many healthcare organizations today, this requires a major shift in cultural mindset.
Four steps to get the change started.
To improve service and remain competitive in the healthcare industry:
- Create a new definition of service. Service can be defined as “taking action to create value for someone else.” With this definition, all medical personnel can appreciate their roles in providing both internal and external service. Nurses are typically seen as serving doctors – for example, creating value by responding quickly to requests. But doctors can also take actions to make things better for nurses – for example, being more proactive or complete in their communications, being more patient with new or unfamiliar nurses, and extending a few more compliments than complaints.
- Promote a common service language. Each medical specialty or department has a natural language of daily work: surgery, laboratory, intensive care, in-patient wards, emergency, etc. A shared vocabulary about service is needed to ensure that everyone appreciates what it means to deliver an excellent experience to patients (customers) and to each other (colleagues). Key elements of this common service language include the definition of service as above as well as distinctions for evaluating service, identifying the value of service, and locating opportunities to upgrade service.
- Provide a shared framework to improve service. In addition to a common language, medical professionals need a shared set of analytic and diagnostic tools to evaluate the services they provide and to locate specific opportunities for improvement. These include Perception Point mapping along each service journey, Big Picture mapping to identify categories of value, and a Service Style Assessment to recognize when and where patients need instruction, information, education, encouragement, or understanding.
- Increase team member’s ability to deliver individualized care. While checklists, processes, and a safety-driven operating focus are vital, service providers must also learn to bring flexibility and individualized service into patient care – in other words, to serve the whole person with all of their needs, and not only treat the medical condition. The key to this transformation is to provide actionable service education, not only script and procedure-based training. Training teaches what to do, and doing the right thing is essential in healthcare. But education teaches how to think about what to do, and when, and who to do it for. This empowers service providers to better understand the individuals they serve, and to choose better actions to that create value for each person at each moment of healthcare delivery.
You can learn more about our success with clients in the health care industry by studying these client success stories, subscribing to this newsletter, or by contacting us to schedule a briefing and further conversation.
What is your experience of the healthcare industry today? Is service getting better or getting worse? What do you see is needed to uplift the spirit and quality of health care service in the years ahead?
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