Your Practice, The Airlines, and Customer Service

January 26, 2011

Why do we accept in healthcare a level of efficiency and automation - or lack thereof - that would be wholly unacceptable anywhere else

Imagine you are traveling somewhere, and you go to the airport check-in counter for your airline. Let’s call them Global National Airlines, or GNA. Anyway, as you walk down past all the other airlines with their electronic kiosks for check-in, and you get to the GNA counter, there is a very nice person who hands you a GNA clipboard and asks you to write your name, address, home phone, employer, and asks for an identification card (which they borrow and photocopy, along with a copy of your driver’s license).

You protest to the agent that you have just been there last week, and none of the information has changed, and in fact you and the ticket agent actually recognize each other by sight, because you fly so frequently. But he/she makes you go through the clipboard drill anyway, so you comply, because otherwise GNA won’t give you your ticket.

After they give you back your driver’s license and ID card, they tell you to go sit down in a waiting area with a bunch of other people and they disappear into a massive file room for what seems like a long time and finally come back with your ticket (at least that’s what happens most of the time…about 20% of the time they can’t seem to find your ticket). They holler out your name in front of all the other people in the waiting area, and you come up to the counter to be served and get your ticket.

If it’s the first time flying with GNA, they hand you a clipboard with a four-page form and ask you to re-create your entire flying history, starting from the age of 2, and list any adverse reactions to flying, to airline food, or to being cooped up in small spaces with lots of people for hours at a time. All of this information you have to re-create from memory.

Sounds crazy, no? But that’s the current state of affairs in most healthcare practices.

What would you think of GNA? Would you think their planes are safe, their engines and flight safety systems are maintained and state-of-the-art, their maintenance records are up to date, their flight crews and ground staffs trained and competent? No, you would probably be suspicious of these and many other factors. You would most likely never fly GNA again, and you would likely tell all your friends about how crazy and archaic and backwards GNA is.

Yet the GNA scenario above is pretty much accepted practice in virtually all of healthcare - physician offices, clinics, testing centers, lab facilities, and hospitals.

Most medical files are still on paper, which not only means the files are hard to access, it also means the data elements contained therein can’t be easily cataloged, tracked, searched, measured, compared, or analyzed. Lab tests, x-rays, and other external visits from other practitioners, clinics or hospitals generate additional important record elements, which, when they come in, have to be cataloged and filed in the appropriate patient file. (If the patient folder has been moved, such as to the billing department, or to the provider’s desk, or in a duffle bag in his/her car, the test results have to sit in limbo until the file folder is found.) If the practice has multiple locations, it exponentially increases the likelihood that when a patient arrives for an appointment that their file will not be there, or if it is there, that some key information like a lab result or x-ray won’t be there. This wastes time – for the staff, for the physician and for the patient.

Why do we accept in healthcare a level of efficiency and automation - or lack thereof - that would be wholly unacceptable anywhere else? Isn’t it time that healthcare figured out what every other industry has seemed to figure out years ago - namely that automation and technology provide a better patient (customer) experience, increase efficiency, reduce errors, lower costs and generally improve everything?