Patients are customers, too

Patients are customers, too

Summary: Customer service still matters in healthcare, because patients are customers, too.

TOPICS: Health, SMBs

Many people don't realize that one of the nursing profession's highest callings is patient advocacy. That is, we're here to help our clients get healthy, stay healthy, and navigate the rough waters of the healthcare system. Sometimes, that means we nurses have to speak truth to medical power, and point out how practitioners could better treat their patients.

Today, on behalf of a client, I called a local clinic to find out if they had a particular vaccine available. I hadn't yet identified myself as an RN. I simply said, "Hi, I'm calling to find out if you have vaccine XYZ available."

The response I got back was, "What insurance do you have?"

I hadn't yet tried to make an appointment. I hadn't yet entered into a negotiation for services. I hadn't even asked a price. I had merely asked if the vaccine was available.

The implication was that if I didn't have suitable insurance, I couldn't get the vaccine. The implication was that I wasn't even worth talking to if I didn't have insurance.

Imagine this experience in the real world. You call your local office supply store and ask if they have ink in stock for your printer. Before answering, you're asked if you have a credit card.

Or, imagine you're thinking about buying a new 11-inch MacBook Air. You call your local Apple store and you're immediately asked if you have a corporate account, if that account is with an important enough corporation, and what credit balance you have.

You still don't know if the ink or the computer is in stock. Worse, you feel like you might be cast into the Gorge of Eternal Peril if you give the wrong answer.

There is no doubt that healthcare providers need to be paid, and much of that money comes from insurance. But not all insurance is the same. For example, many ZDNet readers are consultants who pay for their own insurance, and don't have access to the kinds of group rates available to large employers.

Many people aren't aware that insurance can cost more per month than a car payment for a very sweet ride (or in some cases, more than a monthly mortgage payment). Small business or individually purchased insurance also usually has a relatively high deductable.

That was the case with my client today. He has a brand-name insurance provider, but because he consults on network installs for his own small company, his deductable is quite large. If he chooses to get the vaccination, he'll wind up paying out of pocket one way or another -- whether at the time of service, or when his insurance company processes the paperwork and sends him the bill for the balance.

But that didn't matter to the clinic.

It didn't matter that there are other providers in town, and that people have choices. They also didn't bother to find out that they were speaking to another healthcare professional, one who will now choose to recommend a different clinic -- one with nicer, more polite customer service policies. It didn't matter that they sent a message that patient care is much less important than their need to know whether a third party they're fond of is footing the bill.

Not only is their behavior nosy, it's inappropriate, and it's rude. Note to medical office personnel: there is a time for questions about insurance (hint...that time is not the first words out of your mouth), and there's a time for customer service. If you focus on the customer service aspect of the interaction, you may eventually get to ask your favorite questions about insurance.

Even though the healthcare business is huge, and it appears that many providers are making a lot of money, each provider is a business. The people they provide services to are customers. That's why there's a trend towards referring to you as clients now, and we're phasing out the practice of calling you patients. It's a little semantically clunky, and it seems disingenuous as long as the type of rudeness I encountered today prevails.

There is still choice in the medical industry.

That's a good lesson for any small business. Keep in mind that your customers will make a buying decision based on more than just price or availability. If you're a jerk, they may go somewhere else.

Topics: Health, SMBs


Denise Amrich is a Registered Nurse, the health care advisor for the U.S. Strategic Perspective Institute, and a mentor for the Virtual Campus at Florida's Brevard Community College.

Nothing in this article is meant to be a substitute for medical advice, and shouldn't be considered as such. If you are in need of medical help, please see your doctor.

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  • Worst part of the American health system

    Is that you are a customer, not a patient.
    There are few doctors (and nurses, well mainly nurses) I have encountered who treated me like patient. The others- I rarely go to them a second time.
    While declining to discuss service without insurance information is wrong and stupid, the notion that you health (and life) is commodity is just as wrong.
    • Summed up well

      As Denise did with her article.
  • Keep the predators out

    Your system is just unbelieveably clunky. Insurance is only there to make money for someone else. Even Americans pay tax, use it to pay for Healthcare.

    Sick people are patients, not customers and the USA will only join modern civilizations when it learns to care for its citizens and not check to see which insurance company is making money off them.

    You have an example in the US Armed Forces, why not extend their healthcare to the rest of the citizens.

    Yeah I know - caring for people is socialism ;-)
    • Interestingly enough... a single payer system, the patient is not the customer either; the government is (taxpaying patients are the government's customers). This reduces the average number of middlemen from two to one, but you still end up with a non-competitive system geared toward pleasing the single customer, instead of the receiver of the service.
      John L. Ries
    • Our problems with creeping socialism run deeper


      Here's the bottom line in a nutshell. Yanks are generally more reluctant to embrace socialistic tendencies than other parts of the civilized Western world (to include AUS) because our government can't be trusted! Our shephards look at one thing only: their annual budgets. They then spend the majority of their thinking hours dreaming up schemes on how to expand it, while pissing what they have away mindlessly!

      The fact is, the USA is an empire. Like all others, it's somewhat unruly. It's governors and foot soldier bureaucrats - beyond an incessant lobbyist cabal - see its expanse and conclude that the money supply, peopled by countless suckers, is endless (well, until recently, when the housing market fiasco broke and basically all the taps ran bone dry).

      I know of no other way to explain it but that Americans have an inherent mistrust of (irresponsible) government, extending past its wild west and open frontier past. This distrust has been accentuated by the FDR-socialist overhaul first fabricated (and with the best of intentions) back during the Depression years. Later we were given LBJ's Great Society and other such nonsense - expensive nonsense! - and things have spiraled ever-downward since.

      Now our corporations rape us on a second front, as they adopt multinational facades and ship work overseas -- while importing cheap + illegal labor from the south. And you wonder why the America of the past, the one that used to work and understood austerity and responsibility - is dying. It's been replaced by platitudes and cheap talk and mind boggling sell-outs from all sides.
  • Disability and insurance.

    Now call around and tell them that you are disabled and on state aid or on medicare or both as I am. I have Brain Cancer, so I can't work and have to have state insurance (medicad) and medicare to pay for all my test, doctors visits, and meds. And still have a co-pay on some of my meds.

    Call some doctors and see if they take state aid.
    • This is what our tax dollars and welfare net used to cover

      Now it is spent on paying largely for Little Mexico and Uber Israel, second substratas our FEDERAL GOVT demands we take care, while funding it with OUR tax dollars at the point of federal bayonets. Stop funding the federal gravy train and see how soon the IRS or G-Man goon is knocking on your door demanding answers!

      Once upon a time folks like you were provided for responsibly by the American government, on funds we the people freely provided. Now they are pissed away to foreigners, and people like you needing a hand are left holding an empty (depleted) bag.

      I'm sorry to hear about your condition.
  • Patients are only the indirect customers

    The direct customers (the people who directly pay) are, for the most part, the insurance companies. Patients are not, for the most part, even the direct customers of the insurance companies (unless they're self-employed); employers are. There are typically two layers of middlemen between the provider of the service and the receiver of the service and since the people who directly pay tend to call the shots, health care providers have much more of a financial interest in pleasing the insurance companies than in pleasing their patients.
    John L. Ries
    • Wow! That's so advanced

      Here in li'l old N.Z. we pay our taxes, when we get injured, sick or some other such ailment serious enough we go to a public hospital. I here Great Britain, most of Europe and many other countries do as we do.

      I guess we're just "light years behind you guys" [sic].
      • Just about anything would be an improvement over the system we have...

        ...but my preference would be for a competitive health care system cheap enough that the vast majority of people could pay for routine care out of pocket, without relying on taxpayer, or employer funded subsidies (the poor could get aid if they needed it). The real scandal is that people need health insurance to pay even for checkups.

        That way, the insurance companies could go back to providing insurance for the stuff that has to be expensive (like long term hospitalization).

        It may be that the best we can do is a publicly funded and controlled medical system, but I'm hoping for better.
        John L. Ries
        • JLR we need to get rid of the Feds first

          That self aggrandizing albatross is dragging everything down, due to its inefficiency and incompetence. It worries more about protecting Mexico and Israel and of course its corporate funders than the stinking people.
          • Getting rid of the feds?

            Do you advocate dissolution of the union?
            John L. Ries
          • He thinks it might be better,

            but even Ron Paul has been more glossy with his diatribes and not going into detail as to what happens when the crash occurs because he will purportedly stop the corporate handouts, and other things, without mentioning what would happen when the obvious crash comes... maybe he could go into a bit more detail but if he didn't before people read his website... (oh, his energy independence blurb is a riot - he wants to drill more for "energy independence", despite our being an exporter of gasoline... with zero context to make it all fit...)

            There's an article on the internet that tells of him being a sellout when doing a deal with Romney as well... but Ron's own website, and lack of actual detail therein, is sufficient...
          • Wrong

            Get rid of the lobbyists, since they are the ones who upend "by, of, and for the people" and turn it into "by, of, and for those with the most amount of money like any good plutocratic corporatist nation is". Mussolini and Shaw might be proud...
  • On the other hand ...

    the clinic may have been "burnt' so many times they have become jaded. How would you like to work for free treating demanding patients who do not reciprocate at times common courtesy? Just sayin'.
    • Do you know of any doctor

      who after a number of years of hard work, and paying off their inevitable schooling debts, didn't become a millionaire? Just how much are they suffering when viewed from the long haul, when helping to take care of those in financial need? Like doctors did in the past in this country, when they were paid far less. I know what I speak of, as my grandfather was one of them.

      More Americans would have the necessary funds for such coverage if they could maintain sustainable careers and work (don't expect help in that regard from our modernized corporations), reduced taxes and government in general [!], and didn't have to care for additional nations and peoples beyond their own.
      • Thank you for adding needed context...

        There is a disconnect between the two paradigms...

  • Well, that's the question and we're in a free market

    If you don't like the system, find a better one...

    Oh, wait, it's globalized...
  • Structural changes needed before patients are treated like valued customers

    It will happen but it will take time. I have outlined the reasons here: