a healthcare professional taking blood pressure

When you consider jobs where customer service is a key to the success of a business, you likely think of servers, cashiers, or call center support teams. However, customer service in healthcare is incredibly important and should not be overlooked, as it’s vital to have quality customer service when seeing patients.

The Importance of Customer Service in Healthcare

Quality treatment and care is critical in the healthcare industry because both companies and patients literally live, and die, based on the quality of care given and received, and the interactions between staff and patients that guide that care.

Every employee in a healthcare company is a customer service representative whether they interact directly with patients or have a more behind-the-scenes role. Each one should approach their job with a customer-service mindset. This is true whether you’re providing customer service in nursing homes or working in the billing department of a major hospital.  

Healthcare is entering a new era. Patients have more options than ever, and it is becoming evident that healthcare providers need to earn their right to provide care – because patients will go elsewhere if they don’t. This may provide a partial explanation as to why the customer experience in healthcare is becoming a bigger priority in the healthcare industry – it seriously impacts the bottom line and a facility’s opportunity to provide for future patients.  

Patient experiences set the expectation of care.

You may have the most highly skilled and top-tier educated physicians and nurses on your staff, but if you can’t provide a high-quality experience for your patients on a consistent basis, they won’t recognize you for being someone that delivers outstanding healthcare. The goal should be to develop lasting relationships with patients rather than approaching visits as a transaction.

Happy patients return – and refer others.

Great customer service can help you create a sense of loyalty in patients and their families. A happy, satisfied patient is more likely to come back – and even refer people – to you and your facility if they have received exceptional care. If a patient gets a less than warm feeling, they are likely to search out the next option because they assume that’s a reflection of the care they will receive. However, if they encountered pleasant service, they would be likely to retain services. The reputation that you develop will be vital in determining whether patients seek you out in the future. 

Follow-up and follow through on patient feedback.

Receiving and acting on feedback is essential to success as patient surveys are bearing more and more weight. Surveys such as the Hospital Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS) address communication skills of medical staff as well as patient experience and demographics. Many nursing customer service programs utilize phone software to help collect patient experience data in real time. Knowing patient opinions of their experience in your office is invaluable. These tools can serve as a diagnostic tool and help adjust for better patient care in the future. 

Poor service sheds light on deeper issues.

Customer service performance is often a symptom and indication of underlying issues within an organization. Providers that provide excellent service are likely to have refined processes and systems in place to help streamline practices. If you have poor customer service, you may struggle with process inefficiencies or have a lack of staff training.

Scope of Healthcare Customer Service Training 

A healthcare customer service training program is a specialized training, separate from other kinds of customer service programs. While a healthcare customer service training may have many of the same components of customer service programs that are general purpose, it’s important to keep in mind that it should be a specialized program. The stakes of healthcare are much higher than most other situations where customer service would be involved. A health care customer service representative should be aware of that fact and trained accordingly. Healthcare customer service training is often necessary for booking, billing, adjusting, and insurance departments. Any administrative role that can interact with patients should receive healthcare customer service training. A medical customer service representative still represents a healthcare organization even if they aren’t providing care and can actively impact a patient’s experience – for better or for worse.  

Providing Quality Customer Service in Your Organization

Whether it is for specific concerns or just for their regular wellness exam, patients are at an elevated level of stress when entering a doctor’s office or hospital. They are often worried about their health as well as any financial issues that could come from the visit. These worries can put added strain on patients and staff, but patients still expect employees to show they care about them during every interaction.

We’ve shared that delivering stellar customer service is incredibly important, but the question remains about how to do that.

Think of other areas of service.

Think of all the times you have experienced excellent customer service. It is important to remember that delivering healthcare (a service) to a patient (customer) follows the same basic principles as other service industries. They likely listened to the customer and delivered on that problem, question, or demand. Listening is key because patients want, and need, to be heard.

Be courteous and respectful, not indifferent or combative.

This may seem obvious, but always make sure patients are treated with courtesy and respect. Many healthcare professionals give patients the feeling they are an inconvenience or that they are misinformed about what’s happening to them. Even if they are, be polite when explaining why. Help the patient understand what’s going on and walk them through any procedures or technical jargon they may not understand. Don’t lose sight of what comes first: caring for people.

Clarity is key.

Whether you are talking face-to-face or via phone or email, being clear is key. While your staff have medical training (whether it is medical assisting, nursing, or medical school), the patient most likely does not. Communicating in medical jargon is not going to make a patient feel at ease, but breaking down procedures or test results, and walking a patient through them, is going to have them leaving your office feeling like they understand what is happening in their body. They will feel informed and empowered when having to make decisions regarding their treatment.

Be accessible in a technological world.

As a society we are glued to our computers and phones. We turn to Google and online portals to do a lot of the heavy lifting for us, and in healthcare it is no different. Having information available online, being able to set up appointments through a website, asking the doctor questions online and getting answers are great tools to help patients feel seen and heard while also providing an additional layer to the customer service experience.

Deliver end-to-end service.

From scheduling to long after discharge, you will have checkpoints where there is patient interaction. Each of these interactions provides an opportunity to influence the customer’s perception about the quality and value of care.

1. Scheduling

Scheduling an appointment is the first touchpoint with a prospective patient. Streamlining this process by minimizing wait times, updating data collection, providing appointment confirmation and reminders, and possibly moving to a digital interface can really enhance the experience for the patient because you are taking their time into consideration.

2. Check-in

Patients are developing their opinion from the moment they walk in and check-in is typically the first in-person interaction they have. This is the time to make sure the data collection process is quick and easy while also managing wait times. Sure, it isn’t hard to predict wait time, but it is possible to manage patients’ expectations about them.

3. Appointment

This is the patient’s most important customer service experience. The key here is to provide staff with the right tools. Making sure they are prepared will give them the ability to focus more on the needs and experience of the patient. 

4. Continuing care

Many times, a patient will not be a one-and-done appointment. There are often referrals, blood draws, or other tests patients will need. Keeping a consistent experience through continuity of care is important, whether it is by setting an appointment for the patient or providing information on costs of referrals or tests. This will help a patient feel like the staff cares and is empathetic and will likely feel relieved to have some of the stress alleviated.

5. Insurance

While patients are stressed about their health, many also worry about the costs associated with healthcare. Getting billed is often a rather delayed process as providers and insurance companies battle over coverage. It’s important to make sure this process doesn’t sour your reputation – make sure finance-related matters are part of the overall experience.

Considering why customer service is important in this industry and how best to deliver that experience to customers can really make a difference.

For more information, see how our online training library can provide curated, high-quality content for the healthcare industry!