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Customer service, satisfaction facts of life in medicine

Tupelo — Increasingly, customer service and customer satisfaction benchmarks are becoming a fact of life beyond retail enterprises into areas such as medicine. While some healthcare administrators may balk at the concept, others believe that the quality of the overall patient experience is a critical component of quality medical expertise.

“Providing a positive and caring environment for the patient is just the right thing to do,” says Eddie Barber, executive director of Tupelo-based Cardiology Associates of North Mississippi, which has offices in Tupelo, Columbus, Oxford and Starkville. “A team approach that recognizes that all elements of patient interaction and patient support are important to the process is the key.”

From Cardiology Associates’ perspective, a commitment to patient satisfaction also means a commitment to measuring how well the practice is meeting patients’ expectations. During 2005, nationally-recognized healthcare patient satisfaction experts Sullivan/Luallin conducted a comprehensive survey among 474 Cardiology Associates patients, posing 37 questions based on key performance indicators. Among the factors assessed were issues such as ease and availability of appointments; wait times in the reception areas and exam rooms; courtesy of staff ranging from front-desk personnel to nurses and medical assistants and lab or x-ray staff; Cardiology Associates’ communication with the patient in terms of explanation of terms, procedures and timeliness of communication; visit with the provider in terms of thoroughness, willingness to listen and explain instructions clearly and amount of time spent; facility convenience, comfort and amenities; and overall patient satisfaction.

The results revealed that when compared with Sullivan/Luallin’s nationwide database of more than 40,000 cardiology patients, Cardiology Associates of North Mississippi scored well above the national average in the assessment areas, registering one of the highest aggregate patient satisfaction ratings on record. Moreover, 99.5% of patients surveyed said that they would recommend Cardiology Associates to others.

Obviously, the technical proficiency of the medical staff is of paramount concern to patients. But Barber adds that an emphasis on areas such as communication, for example, also benefit the patient in understanding their healthcare program, as well as any follow-up care or instructions.

Barber adds that employee satisfaction is critical to patient satisfaction and that the practice is committed to supporting both.

“Our goal is to hire good people and we invest in them by providing good training when they need it,” Barber says. “We also believe in creating an environment were everyone understands the mission, goals and objectives of the organization and works together to achieve those goals. We all got into the field because we care about people and want to help people. There isn’t a front-office versus a back-office, and we embrace a philosophy that we care about each other as a team.”

As evidence of the effectiveness of the team approach, Barber says that the practice has had very little turnover in staff throughout the years. The practice fosters a family-friendly environment and supports each other when milestones are achieved — for example, on various occasions, the administrative team will cook breakfast for the office when accomplishments are achieved, Barber notes.

Barber adds that small gestures that demonstrate consideration of others go a long way in fostering positive patient experiences. For example, he says that the practice has various “happies” such as coffee mugs or magnets that are given to patients if a wait time, for example, is longer than anticipated.

In closing, Barber stated that a willingness to listen to patients and employees underscores the shared goal of serving patients better. “We try to look at things from the viewpoint of those who interact with us.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Karen Kahler Holliday at mbj@msbusiness.com.

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