The Physician's Office

Dreaming of Customer Service

I’m entering a clinical research study soon, which I can talk more about later, but it brings several customer service issues to the forefront for me because I have to get some baseline testing to start. 

I’m talking fundamental customer service issues that offices of various types *should* efficiently address, but seem to be out of reach for many offices. Everything I need to know to prepare for a visit should be on your website.

These are just a few suggestions:

  1. Your location information - address and directions. Include driving and whatever the prevailing public transit is. Include bus lines that drop near your office. 
  2. Your phone number should be visible, but you should put your local can-actually-reach-a-human phone number as well as an after-hours or non-urgent number. Do patients need to call a separate line for RX services or nurses? Put that on there, too, especially if patients can leave after-hours voicemails. 
  3. Your hours. When are you open? Do you take walk-ins? If so, is that for all your hours or only for some? 
  4. Any forms someone might need to fill out. This information can help patients prepare in advance of their appointment and makes the office visits run more smoothly. 
  5. Preparation requests. Do patients need to do something or, more importantly, NOT do something before they see you? Post that information. For example, my immunologist is an allergist. They ask that patients not take their usual allergy medicines and not wear cologne/perfume on their visits. All openly displayed on their website as a reminder to their patients. 
  6. Insurance information. Do you take (or, more significantly, not accept) specific popular plans in your area? Are there some companies for which you only allow some plans? Putting that on your site and directing patients to that information can help avoid some of the feelings of gotcha when a provider turns out to be out of network. 
  7. List each member of the practice’s particular strengths and interests. Does one of your doctors love evaluating patients for food allergies? Is one an expert in a rare disease? Do you feel your practice is NOT equipped to treat certain types of patients? That should all be on your website. A patient doesn’t necessarily want to waste their time coming in to see you when they should be seeing a colleague or, even, another practice entirely.

What I wish was available: 

  1. Online appointment scheduling. I know this can lead to complications, but it makes life SO MUCH EASIER for patients. It allows them to book appointments at all hours, when they think about needing the appointment, instead of wasting everyone’s time on hold for long periods of time. 
  2. Online prescription requests. Can a patient email you an RX request through a secure portal on your website? Doesn’t this seem more efficient than having to transcribe 100 voicemails? 
  3. Wait time estimates. Has the doctor gotten bogged down with an emergency case? Let patients know when they sign in that it may be a long wait today. Give them the option to re-book, see another clinician, or wait it out, easing some of the congestion problems at crowded offices. 

In a common mantra for process improvement, we can’t improve what we don’t measure. Some of my suggestions are meant to create measurable and, therefore, actionable areas for improvement. Wouldn’t we all like to have a health care system that respects everyone’s needs, focuses on quality care, and is run efficiently? If we can create metrics around what that looks like from each perspective, we can get a little closer to achieving it.