Customer Service in Healthcare: Is it Golden Service or has it been impacted by HIPAA?
By Kathy H. Wood, Ph.D., FHFMA
Everyone has a standard of customer service they expect when receiving services. For example, when we visit a restaurant, we expect timely service, friendly staff, prompt attention to our needs, reasonable charges for the quality of the food and service, and so forth. Poor customer service in a restaurant – or any business – can result in dissatisfaction. When we have a negative experience, chances of returning to that establishment diminishes significantly; and we often tell our friends and family about the poor experience.
Is healthcare much different with our expectations? Not really, but oftentimes our insurance or remote locations force us to seek care from specific providers unless we are willing to pay additional fees for going “out-of-network” – which doesn’t always make sense.
One thing I always remind my healthcare management students and previous staff of when dealing with patients is that in most cases, the patient doesn’t want to be a patient. This takes on a whole new meaning of how the patient should be treated. The patient has much higher anxiety than is typical with other types of service they are seeking. They are asking themselves: What could they find that’s wrong with me? Will I be diagnosed with a terminal illness? How much will this cost me? Will I be away from my family and loved ones? How can I possibly afford the bills? How much time will I be away from work? – a question which only adds to the anxiety of financial implications.
Knowing the level of anxiety requires more customer service skills for the person communicating with the patient. The first impression can be very lasting. So, it makes sense to have outstanding customer skills at the first point of contact with the patient.The first point of contact can occur multiple times. The person answering the phone or greeting the patient needs to collect demographic and insurance information. This step alone can be very trying for the patient, particularly when he/she has no insurance. The patient is also asked why they are visiting the doctor and details of their symptoms. This may make the patient very uncomfortable, especially if a sensitive issue. Requesting payment upfront can also lead to more anxiety, especially if the patient has no means to pay.
Among other areas, payments is one where healthcare administrators can ease patient fears by offering to make their payments manageable. But HIPAA’s Privacy Rule protects all "individually identifiable health information" held or transmitted in any form or media, whether electronic, paper, or oral. To better understand the privacy rule, visit the U.S. government’s Health and Human Services site for information: http://www.hhs.gov/ocr/privacy/hipaa/understanding/.
How do you think HIPAA impacts healthcare customer service? Discuss your thoughts with me on Twitter or leave a comment below.
Dr. Kathy Wood, Ph.D., FHFMA is the University Dean of Health Sciences at Colorado Technical University. Explore her background or connect with her on Twitter @CTUHealth.
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