36 and Counting Cultivating Positive Relationships Customer Service Healthcare Opinion

Patient satisfaction presents unique challenges

Healthcare ‘customer service’ differs from the rest of the world. In a 2017 interview with former Cleveland Clinic Chief Experience Officer James Merlino, MD, writer Micah Solomon explores the complex world of healthcare “customer service.” Given the dynamics involved, it’s not business as usual in the healthcaring arena.

In the article, Merlino points out that

“…hospitals are not hotels…we are in the ultimate service business: there is no tighter, more personal bond that exists in any business than that of a caregiver and a patient…Even though the ‘customer’ comes first, it’s a business where the customer is not always right. In many cases, they don’t want to be a customer at all. As care providers, we serve people who are often at the most vulnerable times in their lives, and we are responsible for communicating with them, and in some cases, delivering news that can be devastating to an individual or a family.”

Key to providing a positive patient experience, Merlino notes, are taking care of the caregivers so that they are empowered and motivated to provide top-notch customer service, and viewing the patient population as many audiences versus a homogenous entity.

Caregivers are patients, too-help them help their patients
Merlino emphasizes that

“…we need to ask ourselves what we’re doing to care for our healthcare providers…Nurturing caregiver engagement as a foundation for improvement. We have always thought that when you have an engaged culture, you’ll get high performance on safety, quality, and experience…”

Different health challenges dictate different customer service strategies
Needs differ based on the challenge.

“CHF (congestive heart failure) patients have needs that differ from other medically treated patients…We tend to see patients as homogenous when thinking about their patient experience needs, but they are not,” Merlino remarks. He adds that it’s less about creating something new than “focusing on what matters most and improving execution…These are not special initiatives or innovations, they are hard-core principles of responsible management.”

Merlino adds,

“The question for healthcare leaders today is how do we make patient care a fundamentally better experience across the continuum? That includes safety, quality, and service. It also includes making healthcare more connected so that we promote wellness care as well as disease care. We also need to integrate distance health so people can stay at home and at work. And, finally, how do we significantly reform our archaic payment system[?]”

This is the third in a series about healthcare “customer service” addressing patient caring. While there is much to lament about the decided lack of “bedside manner” afforded many under today’s ailing healthcare system, there are bright spots as well. This series focuses on exemplary healthcaring innovations that hopefully will spread quickly and help cure what ails us.

Next: Drilling down further into the drivers of positive patient experience


Mark Lusky is a veteran writer, storyteller and author, with 40+ years of public relations, advertising, marketing and journalism experience. Author of A Wandering Wondering Jew… and co-author of Don’t Get Mad, Get Leverage,  Mark (aka The Happy Curmudgeon) is the owner of a Denver-based marketing communications firm celebrating 36 years in business in 2018.

One reply on “Patient satisfaction presents unique challenges”

Ordinarily, I don’t think of hospital patients as “customers”, but your point is well made. Each patient needs and deserves the best care available and that would include appropriate medical services and advice.

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