Healthcare providers can learn from other industries on how to better engage with patients and not fear negative reviews or complaints, say leaders in other service-focused industries.

Nov. 9—Providers shouldn't be afraid of patient opinions and can do much more to address negative feedback to everyone's benefit, say leaders from industries that include banking and hospitality.

Executives from Opentable.com, Schwab Bank, Privia Health and others suggested ways to engage customers/patients and include them in decision-making, during the Medical Group Management Associations’ (MGMA's) annual conference. 

Since October 2012, the federal government has included patient satisfaction among measures used to calculate Medicare payments to hospitals. Patient satisfaction scores are also included in other value-based provider contracts.

On Nov. 2, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) announced it was removing patient survey answers as part of pain management care in the value-based purchasing program. Providers had pushed for the change, arguing that the pressure for high patient satisfaction scores could drive clinicians to overprescribe pain medications.

Finding a balance between delivering appropriate services and receiving praise from patients is difficult to manage, executives from other industries said. Several critical elements include a high level of customer service; developing an institution-wide culture around the customer; and involving customers in fixing problems and acting on their good ideas.

Customer Trends

The restaurant world shares a lot of similarities with health care, said Joseph Essas, chief technology officer for Opentable.com, an online restaurant reservation company with 40,000 partner restaurants. Many restaurants are small businesses working under strict regulations and ever-compressing operating margins, with a longstanding reliance on pen and paper. Customer service expectations and the importance of both front-of-the-house and back-room staff are equally important in both industries, Essas said.

“It wasn't an easy process to convince restaurants that technology could help them,” Essas said. “Now we've gotten to a place where we are an indispensable part of their toolbox.”

How does the reservation company move to accommodate restaurants’ needs? Following customers in trends is one way. For instance, in both the restaurant world and increasingly in health care, people don't want to use a phone to make an appointment or reservation.

“Our job is not to fight trends, but to embrace them,” Essas said.

In health care, online appointment scheduling and electronic registration check-in lags behind other industries, and yet, it can be a powerful tool to improve patient satisfaction, said Joshua Penn, MD, a cardiologist and founder of Diagnostic Partners in Los Angeles.

“It's surprising that the adoption has been so slow,” Penn said.

What Providers Can Control

Banking is another industry similar to health care in that it is highly regulated, has strong privacy laws, and relies on customer satisfaction to retain market share.

Angela Birmingham, chief operating officer at Schwab Bank, said technology has been the biggest enabler for that industry’s growth. The $160 billion bank is the 16th largest in the country and is only about 12 years old. And it is primarily an online bank.

The bank's key to success is strong reviews and loyalty from customers, Birmingham said.

“We leverage social media heavily and monitor everything that is out there on us,” Birmingham said. “You can't control what a customer puts out there but you can control how you respond. And we respond quickly and compassionately."

Birmingham said she personally takes customer complaint calls and has found that a human voice on the phone has a powerful positive impact on customer satisfaction and retention.

Retention is important in every industry because it is cheaper to hold onto a current customer or patient than to recruit a new one, said Tony Eades, CEO of BrandManager, a digital marketing agency.

Eades said that among customers who leave a place of business before receiving a full service, 66 percent do so because of poor customer service. “And a lot of those people leave without telling anybody why,” he said.

User-Generated Content

Healthcare providers could do a lot more to harness the feedback from patients and families to improve their brands in the communities they serve, the MGMA speakers said.

A few years ago, Opentable.com suggested to its restaurant partners that they start posting restaurant reviews on the reservation site. There was fierce resistance from restaurants to this idea because they feared bad reviews and had no way to control that content, said Essas. Ultimately, the reviews section went forward.

“As it turned out, the reviews, especially the positive ones, became the content for the restaurants,” Essas said. “Our restaurant partners began using that content to promote their brands. Sometimes the thing you fear most turns out to be the most valuable."

Healthcare providers should be mindful of following privacy laws such as HIPAA, but that should not stop them from finding ways to integrate patient comments into their marketing plans, said Penn.

Customers will seek out existing customers of a product or service on social media or review sites like Yelp to find out information, said Eades of BrandManager.

“They don't want the glossy pamphlet anymore,” he said. “They want to know what the real experience is using your service."

Privia Health is doing some of this legwork through its business model of providing population health management and patient engagement for physician practices and accountable care organizations. Privia Health works with 1,600 providers in seven states.

Scott Disch, national practice leader for Privia Health, said providers seeking to improve patient engagement should conduct small tests of change and see how this is received by patients and providers.

“Never underestimate the value of a three or six month pilot,” he said.


Rebecca Vesely is a freelance writer based in San Francisco. Follow her on Twitter at @rebvesely.

Publication Date: Wednesday, November 09, 2016