I was reading an article last night that lamented the incredible — some would say unbelievable — problems in America's healthcare "system."  No surprise there."  Earlier in the week, I encountered a maddening customer relationship snafu with a global technology company.  The article and my poor service experience served as a stark reminder that healthcare is not the only industry with bad service deliverables and amazing contradictions, but, unfortunately, it is still the gold standard.

This led me to share some thoughts that I find interesting, frustrating and representative (read: tip of the iceberg) of what is wrong with the healthcare industry and our interactions with patients/customers.

1. An onslaught of slick television commercials promoting the benefits of new drugs under the guise of improving patient awareness/education actually generate patient requests for drugs they do not need. Unnecessary visits to the physician requesting one of those miracle drugs ( with scary potential complications) and higher costs result.

2.  We feel a "little off" – perhaps a cold is coming on — so we call the doctor, or his/her assistant, and request an antibiotic.  Maybe that will magically thwart what is more than likely a virus. Higher costs and the rapid expansion of the number of  life-threatening drug-resistant infections is an unintended consequence. 

3. The claim that ridiculous malpractice lawsuits are driving up healthcare costs is a common theme in the national conversation regarding healthcare reform. A common solution: impose tough tort reforms that will reduce these claims and lower costs.  The state legislature may act but absolutely nothing will change except for reducing the size of the medical malpractice bar and improving the market for physician recruitment.  In Texas, we have tort limits.  The result:  medical liability insurance rates have declined as have the number of malpractice cases, but healthcare costs in Texas are similar to those states that have done nothing and quality of care is really no better. 

4. Hospitals produce expensive television commercials championing quality of care and service and then wonder why patients quickly become dissatisfied with the uneven, siloed, inefficient — and sometimes dangerous — care/service they routinely receive. The contrast between what is promised and what actually occurs could not be more startling except, perhaps, in the airline industry where television ads never mention the cramped legroom or those miserable center seats in the coach cabin.

5. Healthcare leaders agree that something must be done to lower healthcare costs but they frequently decry new technology or structural reforms that will lower costs as being too expensive to undertake unless, of course, someone else (hint: our debt-strapped government) pays the bill. The result: we chase the status quo and wonder why our costs continue to rise.

As a healthcare executive with more than 30 years of experience, it is nice to know that our industry is not alone in terms of our ability to find a dark room in which to stumble around. The technology sector is certainly not immune. 

I had to call a large computer software manufacturer for help with their office suite program for my new but not-a-Windows laptop.  The telephone decision tree was endless including an initial and slightly huffy legal privacy disclaimer that was beyond annoying.  I finally spoke with a customer "service" representative — not in the U.S. — who, after five minutes of questions and my repeated answers due to a bad satellite link, assigned me a "case" number and promised to transfer me to a specialist who could take care of my problem.  She promptly transferred my call to a non-working telephone extension.  I had to start all over with the annoying legal disclaimer, the endless automated decision tree and the repeated explanations due to the bad satellite or the local telephone system, in whatever far away land those customer service people were located.  I could have been talking to one of the mega-banks. In Microsoft's defense, when I did finally reach a customer service presentative in their Apple section, he was knowledgable and solved the problem.

My first reaction: did the Microsoft executive who designed this customer service technical support system formerly work in a teaching hospital?

© 2011 John Gregory Self


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