Customer Service Center Gaining Momentum in the Healthcare Industry

In the traditional healthcare facility, multiple departments and staff are involved in customer intake and “processing” activities, including reception, admitting and registration, coordination of multiple appointments, cashiering, insurance verification, and physician referrals. This typically results in fragmented customer service and complicated wayfinding. Although many of these departments are located on the first floor of the facility, only a few staff in each department actually have face-to-face interaction with visitors, patients, and their families. The question is: How can a healthcare organization better utilize both its staff and space to potentially enhance operational efficiency and improve customer service?

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Use of Interactive Technology Boosts Patient Satisfaction

Hospitals within six healthcare systems saw dramatic increases in their patient satisfaction scores when using interactive monitors that allow patients to access information about their care and to communicate with staff. The hospitals provided patients with in-room monitors that allowed them to ask clinicians questions about their care, inquire about food menus, request help with minor tasks, read about their medical condition, and access their post-discharge instructions. Satisfaction with educational materials increased by 42 percent and overall patient satisfaction scores increased by at least 10 percent. The healthcare systems included El Paso Children’s Hospital (El Paso TX), Palisades Medical Centre (North Bergen NJ), and University Hospitals Seidman Cancer Center (Cleveland OH).

Source: Fierce Healthcare (www.fiercehealthcare.com).

Hospital VIP Line Speeds Up the Registration Process

Gilbert Hospital opened in February of 2006 in the town of Gilbert, Arizona with the guarantee of “Door to Doc in 31 Minutes.” In 2009, its emergency department treated more than 46,000 patients; 98.4 percent were seen by a Board certified physician in less than 31 minutes and the average wait time was less than 11 minutes. Now it has a new program where patients on their way to the hospital can call the toll-free VIP (very important patient) line to provide basic registration information, saving precious seconds once they arrive. Patients en route can call the number any time of the day and speak with a live registrar who will input their name, date of birth, gender, nature of the illness or injury, and an estimated arrival time to cut the check-in time to a matter of seconds. Upon arrival, a photo ID is requested to confirm identity but the patient is not asked for insurance or financial information until after treatment. In a related effort to further reduce delays, Gilbert Hospital has revamped its SST (scan, swipe, and treat) card for a new VIP card. The VIP card is provided to every patient with a photo ID. The call-ahead line and the updated VIP cards are part of Gilbert Hospital’s efforts to provide the fastest emergency service in the country.

New Hospital Initiatives to Improve the Patient Experience

Most of the leaders who responded to the annual HealthLeaders Media Patient Experience Survey say patient experience is either their first priority (35 percent) or among their top five priorities (58 percent). And 71 percent say it has grown in importance over the past year. Survey respondents overwhelmingly agree patient experience is a business necessity since it drives referrals, volume, and revenue as much as clinical quality. However, their biggest obstacles are competing priorities and lack of funding.

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Hospitals Rethink Spiritual Spaces and Create Meditation Rooms

At least three Northern California hospitals have plans to open meditation rooms — or to expand and update what were once known as chapels — for nondenominational observance. This is in response to the changing needs of hospital staff and the evolving view that the body and soul can heal together. These new meditation rooms do not have pews or religious symbols. Instead they are sanctuaries where families can pray for patients, space for prayer rugs and windows facing east, or a quiet area where doctors can pause for spiritual refreshing. According to a chaplain who manages spiritual care for Kaiser North Valley hospitals “When people are facing the ultimate spiritual and existential crisis, such as illness, they need a quiet place to go. These rooms should meet the needs of all faiths.” Some hospitals do not call the rooms chapels because that label invokes the Judeo-Christian tradition. Hospitals have staff from a wide variety of faith backgrounds including Muslims who need a place to pray five times a day.

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More Hospitals Are Renovating to Accommodate the Obese

Bariatric ChairNovation, a medical supply contracting company, has released its 2010 Bariatric Report, a nationwide survey of about 300 VHA Inc. and University Health System Consortium member hospitals, confirming that the obesity epidemic poses new and significant challenges to U.S. hospitals. According to this survey, over 48 percent of the respondents saw an increase in admissions of morbidly obese patients since 2008 while 13 percent saw a significant increase. Moreover, 28 percent of the respondent hospitals reported having invested in physical renovations of their facilities last year to accommodate the morbidly obese with another 8 percent saying that they planned to do so. Novation reports that hospitals have been buying specialized medical equipment such as bariatric blood pressure cuffs, bariatric beds and mattresses, stretchers, operating room tables, and non-clinical furniture. While the industry has seen an overall decrease in spending on renovations and building improvements due to the still recovering economy, physical renovations to accommodate bariatric patients have increased — such as widening door openings, installing higher-load steel toilets, providing open showers, and purchasing new seating for patients and family members.