An appendicitis attack landed my friend Linda in the hospital a few months ago. We had been riding our horses, and she kept complaining of abdominal pains, so I ended up driving her to the hospital and staying with her until she was admitted and her family arrived. While waiting with her, it was pretty hard not to notice the long lines, the uninformed staff, the costs, the lack of security, and even the lack of respect toward patients by certain hospital personnel.
Shouldn't hospitals provide customer service? After all, Linda's two-day stay for the removal of her appendix cost $78,236.40. "I almost had a heart attack," laughed Linda when she saw the bill. "I know I went in as an emergency, but really - $39,000 a day?" So Linda had to fight her way through the very confusing maze of hospital billing services, billing codes, insurance language, and way too few customer service representatives.
Linda does have experience in the medical profession, so her task was not as monumental than perhaps for the rest of us who might not have figured out how to read the bills, what insurance companies don't cover, and even recognize some of the ridiculous fees that can show up on one's bill. As an example, Linda was charged $66 for the water recovery system in her room. That was the plastic pitcher and one plastic cup!
In 1998, the US Advisory Commission on Consumer Protection and Quality in the Health Care Industry adopted the Patient's Bill of Rights. It has three major goals, and for the first time provided patients with some level of customer service. The law intended to help patients feel more comfortable in the US health care system. It stresses the importance of a strong relationship between patients and health care providers. Finally, it explains to the patient how to protect their health and their rights, and this last section also applies to insurance plans.
It is unfortunate that medical expenses used to account for the most bankruptcies among Americans. (Now it is replaced by the mortgage failures and the economic downfall.) Patients and their families need not throw up their hands however, but can follow some of the basic principles once they finally do connect with a customer service representative.
Hospitals need to reconsider their role in customer service, and patients need to be related to as customers. There needs to be a liaison between patients and hospitals. Top executive officers and administrative staff need to work together to bring courtesy, efficiency, experience, service, and the best possible product to offer patients. Hospitals need to cultivate patient loyalty and patient satisfaction - no different from any business with a solid plan.