Patient Loyalty, Duct Tape, and Customer Experience Failure

by Jeannie Walters

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Health care is expensive, humbling, sometimes embarrassing, and generally still a huge pain to get aligned, validated and scheduled.  Have you ever wondered where the “care” part of health care is hiding? I’m not referring to medical competency, or even staff friendliness, but more specifically- care about the patient’s experience as a paying customer.

Here are a few details about my most recent experiences as a customer in the health care system, and why it’s likely I’m back to the drawing board in choosing a doctor.

Duct tape and broken processes

When making an appointment to see a new doctor, the receptionist took my information and offered me an appointment at 10:40 AM, which I accepted. After asking me a few more questions, this is what she said:

“You will receive a call from our automated system in a few days confirming your appointment. However, it will say you are due here at 11:00 AM. We’ll need you to just ignore that and still come in at 10:40.”

So what good, then, is that confirmation to me? I find it unsettling that my experience with a facility operated by a well-known major university health care network has their staff trained to have patients ignore future instructions. In an industry where everything is ridiculously expensive, it’s amazing there are so many broken processes which are regularly circumnavigated by the staff. Would it really be a huge undertaking to change this part of the process? Yet they cover the bad parts with duct tape and forget about it.

patient loyalty

I wondered if this was really designed for the Doctor’s convenience, so he knows what time to expect patients to be ready. Broken process or not, it was clearly not designed with the patient experience in mind.

So a few days later, I received the automated confirmation which also included instructions to report to Admittance in the lobby before proceeding to the doctor’s office on the 4th floor. Was I to ignore this part too?

On the day of the appointment, I went straight to Admittance to check in, waited until my number was called, then was told “Oh, you don’t need to be here. You can go right on up.”

Dude, seriously!?

Details, details

Through this same experience my name had been misspelled four different times. I filled all fields in clear capital letters and presented my driver’s license. From filling out initial forms on through to picking up my prescription, not a single person spelled my name correctly, even when asked to make corrections. Even the doctor said to me, “So what brings you here today, Gon?” Who really wants to return to the receptionist asking for a second correction after having a stranger’s cold hands in places I’d rather not mention?

patient loyalty

So after telling me that a simple misspelling would not likely affect my ability to validate my prescription pick-up, the receptionist told me that she would update my records and prescriptions before sending off to the pharmacy. I got this sense she was trivializing my concern. Never mind that I’d rather not be known as someone named “Gon.” And guess what? It was still wrong, just different. And even the pharmacy botched it after requesting yet another correction.

Patient loyalty in the age of the consumer

I was not misdiagnosed or improperly medicated. The staff was not rude or off-putting. But in choosing a new doctor, I prefer to be able to make a good personal connection. These people know all my icky little details! But I was just another patient on the list, and my preferences didn’t really matter a whole lot. It was not horrible, but I’d rather not have this be the scenario every time I need to see a doctor.

This is not life on the prairie where the only doctor is a treacherous three-day’s journey away. Long gone are the days when practitioners didn’t need to be concerned with loyalty because there was nowhere else to go. This is the age of the connected consumer. And this town is full of doctors I can choose from wherever I am.

I think it’s time health care practitioners and their staff start treating patients more like paying customers and much less like picky dependents.

Photo credit: Hajime NAKANO via Creative Commons

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Jeannie Walters

Jeannie Walters is the CEO/Founder of Experience Investigators, a global Customer Experience consulting firm. She has 20 years of experience helping companies improve loyalty and retention, employee engagement, and overall customer experience. Jeannie is a Certified Customer Experience Professional (CCXP,) a charter member of the Customer Experience Professionals Association (CXPA,) a Professional Member of the National Speakers Association, LinkedIn Learning instructor, TEDx speaker, and President-Elect of the National Speakers Association Illinois chapter. Learn more here.

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