Customer Service in Healthcare - The Prescription (Rx) For Success

(Originally published on the DITEC website at - May 2000.)

By William K. Pollock

Healthcare today remains in crisis. While legislators and politicians continue debating about whether to restructure the entire system or simply change parts within it, many healthcare services organizations are simply struggling for survival in an increasingly uncertain environment. Many are also finding themselves faced with a combination of underperforming quality and cost management controls; uncertainty about the eventual impact of healthcare reform on their respective bottom lines; and, indirectly, sluggish revenue growth curves due to the overly burdensome capitation measures which have drastically reduced their customers' overall "buying power" and, hence, ability to take full advantage of their services.

However, those organizations that have successfully implemented customer service-focused business plans will be most likely to survive any impending "shakeout". The strategic planning process stimulates an environment that allows organizations to become "living and learning systems" where management is able to make critical decisions based on "hard data", and employees are empowered to play an integral role in the identification of problems and implementation of strategies to achieve success. Success is then ultimately measured in terms of improved service quality, higher levels of customer satisfaction and increased cost savings/profits.

Many measures of business performance exist in healthcare today including, but not limited to, improved cycle time, increased customer satisfaction and reduced costs. Legal and regulatory performance measures are also pervasive, for obvious reasons. For those who have become frustrated by or, perhaps, disillusioned with, the growing demands of the healthcare services industry, it is important not to blame the concept of strategic planning, for it is only within this planning context that the business objectives of any services organization are going to be attained in such a competitive market.

What should be examined, rather, is the joint commitment to customer service and support from both the users' and the providers' perspectives. The most effective approach to improving customer service is one that is both comprehensive and coordinated, and designed to stimulate continuous improvement in service performance.

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