Little things can boost customer service ratings

Outpatient center offers suppers, baby photos

At East Lake Outpatient Center in Palm Harbor, FL, the focus of the patient access services team is clear: Anything it can do to excel in customer service is fair game.

That’s the philosophy of Kandy Swanson, patient access services team leader, who recently instituted a full slate of new customer service programs at the ambulatory care center, part of Morton Plant Mease Health Care System.

"We’re the patient’s first contact, and if we can do some extra thing to help with the whole stay, we want to do it," says Swanson, who has implemented a concierge desk, weekly Medicare counseling, and an on-site library for patients.

The latest customer service initiatives by the East Lake patient access services team include the following:

After-surgery suppers.

East Lake allows patients and their families to order a picnic-style supper, served in a bag featuring the health system’s logo, to take home with them after a procedure. For $6, the patient can select one of four entrees, with a salad and roll; for $3, they can have chicken salad and a roll or a sandwich. The bags also contain a stuffed "comfort bear," sewn by hospital volunteers.

The food, prepared by the food services staff at one of the health system’s hospitals, meets recommended serving size and low-sodium requirements and — according to a staff taste test — "really does taste good," Swanson notes.

A member of the patient access services team is assigned, on a weekly rotation, to check messages on a reservation line and then organize the orders and get the bags ready. (See ad, p. 69.)

Family member survival kits.

At check-in, the patient’s accompanying family member is presented with a muffin, an apple, a package of peanuts with the health system’s name on it, and brain-teaser games, including a "healthy" crossword puzzle. This helps keep family members fed and occupied while the patient undergoes the procedure.

The bag also contains tips on what to expect when the patient goes home, with customized material on the most common conditions treated at the center; a laminated card with first-aid information; and a collection of "health humor," which Swanson scours magazines to find.

‘Baby’s First Photo.’

Responses to a Gallup Survey of East Lake patients last year revealed that patients weren’t very satisfied with the level of communication by technicians who provide the center’s imaging services, Swanson says.

"The idea was to get the radiology techs more involved," she adds. "Now, when they do a healthy fetal age, it’s put in a cardboard frame and labeled ‘Baby’s First Photo,’ with a baby’s footprint on the front, and signed by the radiologist, who can add a personal note."

Apple therapy.

Patients whose procedures require that they take nothing by mouth after midnight are treated to a piece of fruit or a muffin immediately following their procedures. The goodies are in a large wicker basket labeled, "The outpatient center wishes you a happy day." This has been a welcome touch, Swanson notes. "If it’s not there, the patients want to know, ‘Where are the apples?’"

‘Secret Shopping Service.’

To enhance patient satisfaction with the speed and efficiency of the registration process, Swanson initiated a "Secret Shopping Service," in which employees from other departments "shop" the registration area. These secret shoppers look specifically at four issues:

— how long it takes for preregistration;

— whether patients are greeted on arrival;

— whether registrars record the patients’ dates of birth (used for patient identification);

— whether patients are kept waiting while employees answer the telephone.

The results of the shopping trips are reported to Swanson and discussed in staff meetings.

The team creates an action plan if, for instance, the front desk is deluged with calls and patients have to wait for an employee to get off the phone. This quality monitoring is reported by the day of the week, so the team may find that on Mondays — when registration personnel help with the switchboard — service is not as good.

Customer service spotlight.

Team members are asked at staff meetings to share instances in which they went the extra mile to help a patient. Although employees were reluctant to "brag on themselves" at first, with some encouragement they have come to enjoy the sharing sessions, Swanson says.

One employee recently related, for example, a time when a patient mistakenly arrived at her desk looking for a "Dr. Lisa." The employee questioned the patient, checked the physician roster and finally determined that the "female-type name" the patient couldn’t remember was "Lara." The worker then was able to direct the patient to the right location and called ahead to let the doctor’s staff know the patient was on the way.

That’s a far cry — and a welcome change, Swanson notes — from simply telling patients they are in the wrong place and refusing to get involved.

"Sometimes, when you do a job day in and day out, you forget that you’re the representative of the health care institution, and it just becomes a routine," she points out. "We need to focus on the fact that this is an individual and this is their health. Each patient deserves the utmost sympathy and respect."

Swanson theorizes that even though the patient might have the best physician, the best nurse, and the best equipment available, what he or she will talk about with neighbors is the surgery supper or the photo frame from imaging.

"What stands out in the patient’s mind are the little things."