Considering the cost, no excuse for bad service in healthcare

On January 27th I posted a story about the work I’ve been doing with Virginia Mason Medical Center in Seattle. The medical center has been hosting CEO Healthcare Summits around the country encouraging large employers to apply the same scrutiny to the purchase of healthcare services as they do for any other product or service they buy for their businesses. It turns out that very few employers are equipped to measure the value and quality of the healthcare services they buy for employees. That’s surprising since for large employers healthcare can run into the hundreds of millions of dollars a year. Organizers of the CEO Healthcare Summits suggest that providers, payors. and employers all benefit when they work together through marketplace collaboratives to improve the quality, efficiency and value of healthcare services.

imageRelated to the above, in the January 27th article I also shared a story sent to me by one of my Microsoft colleagues. He provided an excellent summary of what happened when he tried to get pricing information for a CT scan his doctor had ordered. The lack of pricing “transparency” he encountered is all to common in the healthcare industry. You might want to stop reading here and jump over to the January 27th article before reading on. As they say on TV, “But wait - there’s more!”

Today my Microsoft colleague sent me the rest of his story. He writes:

After receiving the CT scan I was told that my physician would he contact me by the end of the day. I assumed this would happen since I completed the CT scan at 7:45AM on Monday. I knew that I passed a kidney stone the day before and did not have any pain, SO I wasn’t that worried about the results, but I was curious. The hospital did not know that I was not in pain or anxious. If I had been anxious the scenario that played out would have been even tougher to swallow. Here we go:

Monday: NOTHING – No call from the Hospital or my Physician

Tuesday – Friday: The same. I just spent close to $2000 for a CT scan that could have indicated major issues and caused many patients tremendous anxiety and NO communication at all! Plus, my expectation was set at the hospital by the hospital that I would receive a call that day. Was something wrong? Did they need to look deeper? What was going on?

***I was not worried as I know the challenges with the industry and I felt fine. Many people would not have felt this way.

Friday AM: I called my doctor and left message that I have not heard anything. No call back.

imageThe Following Tuesday: I called my doctor AGAIN and get the front desk. The receptionist recognizes my name from the other message I left and said the nurse was supposed to call me. I tell her no call has been made. She puts me on hold and comes back on and says “There is a note on the chart to call you, but I guess she didn’t see it. Anyway everything is fine with your test.” No apology.

I say…So I just spent $2000 for a test and the results of that test sit at your office for 10 days while I wait around for a phone call to let me know everything is OK? She says: “Well you should be happy that everything is OK.” I kind of laugh and say nicely – “You are missing my point. I should not be the one tracking you down.” I ask her for a copy of all of the images for my record. I get put on hold.

She comes back on line and tells me to call this number and request them. I politely ask her to do it so that her office adds some value. To my surprise the images show up at my house burned on to a DVD about a week later. Although it came by snail mail and data on a CD, this is the first request that is completed as promised.  

imageOf course I know that any one of my readers probably has a similar, and likely even worse horror story to share about bad service from a doctor or hospital. Certainly, in this case no harm was done but all too often patients are harmed by poor service. The sad thing is that a lot of this could be improved with automated systems and better communication and collaboration tools. Healthcare is an industry in severe need of Customer Relationship Management software. As for bad service, I recall one of my physician colleagues who is the CEO of a large public hospital system. She actually brought in trainers from Ritz Carlton to teach her hospital employees how to provide top notch service and be nice to people.

As a physician now working in technology, it saddens me when my professional colleagues drop the ball, especially when the cost of healthcare services is so incredibly high. People deserve better when they (or their company or insurance plan) are spending that kind of money. Heck, they would deserve better service if they were spending $20, let alone $2000! What do you think?

Bill Crounse, MD Senior Director, Worldwide Health Microsoft

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