Red: This health-care thing is a mess.
Fred: For sure. I had to wait over an hour to see my doctor last week. I got so frustrated I left and went to one of those express clinics, or whatever you call them.
Red: How’d that work out?
Fred: It was even worse. People coughing, kids yelling and everybody was on a cell phone. I don’t know where to go anymore.
Red: Well, I’ve got it figured out. All they’ve got to do is look at how other industries deal with their issues.
Fred: What exactly do you mean? I don’t know of any other industries quite like the health-care industry. What other industry can you name where the customer’s bill is paid by a third party who decides what the price will be? And what about all that drug advertising on TV? They could lower the cost of pills if they just cut their marketing budget in half. Anyway, how have you got it figured out?
Red: Instead of looking at other health-care providers to improve — you know? That benchmarking thing. – they should be looking at totally different providers of services.
Fred: OK, I’ll bite. What other industry should the health care industry look at for ways to improve?
Red: Automobile dealerships.
Fred: What? You’ve got to be kidding. What do health-care providers and auto dealerships have in common?
Red: Well, just stop and think about it. You have something wrong with your body so you make an appointment with the doctor. You get to the office and there’s a big sign that says payment is due at the time service is rendered. You check in with the receptionist who asks you to fill out forms that you have already filled out a million times and then get asked for your insurance card. You then get to see the doctor. You get examined, a diagnosis is made, maybe a prescription is handed to you, and then you are handed a piece of paper and told to give it to the person behind the checkout window. You follow instructions. At the checkout window you are told that you owe a certain amount of money. Remember that sign. You scratch your head and pay the bill. A month later you get a bill, maybe a few bills, from some lab or some other place saying that you owe even more money. Ever had that happen to you?
Fred: More than once. But what does that have to do with auto dealerships?
Red takes another sip of coffee. A subtle grin appears on his face. He raises his right hand and speaks.
Red: OK, let’s say that your pickup has a problem. Something like not shifting in gear the way it should. You take it to the dealership and tell the service guy the symptom. He tells you that it will take a while to diagnose the problem. You can stay in the waiting room or maybe be given a ride to work. Heck, if the truck is still under warranty you may even get a loaner vehicle.
Fred: I’m not getting your point, Red. Doctors don’t give loaner cars.
Red: Hear me out. After a while you get a call from the service adviser. He tells you the diagnosis, how much it will cost to repair and when it will be ready. You go pick it up, pay the bill and drive away.
Fred: I’m still not getting it. So you mean I would go to the doctor’s office, have the diagnosis, be told the cost and then decide whether I wanted to get repaired, so to speak.
Red: Exactly. Isn’t that a brilliant idea?
Fred: Some of it might be, but tell me how you’re going to leave your body at the doctor’s office. And tell me how this would save any time at the doctor’s office.
Red: I’m working on that. But at least a patient would know up front how much it was going to cost. The way things are now you have no idea what medical care is going to cost.
Fred: Auto dealerships, huh?
Red: I know it sounds kinda weird, but it worked for the grocery stores.
Fred: What in the world are you talking about now?
Red: Checking out at the grocery used to take forever. Now it’s fast and efficient. Know how they figured that out?
Fred: I give up.
Red: They looked at the airline industry. It had long lines too. Grocery stores studied them and learned that they could add more checkout cashiers during the peak times instead of having the same number of cashiers standing behind the registers all the time. I’m just saying that the health-care industry might want to look at other industries to get better.
Fred: I’ll buy that idea. Goodness know something has to be done.
Red: And you know what? It seems that all the good people working in health care say the same thing.
Fred: What’s that?
Red: It’s not the health-care people that’s the problem. It’s the system.
Fred: I’ll agree with that.
Red: I gotta go now. Got to take my truck to see the doctor. I mean …
Fred: Get out of here.
» Phil Hardwick is a regular Mississippi Business Journal columnist and owner of Hardwick & Associates, LLC, which provides strategic planning facilitation and leadership training services. His email is phil@philhardwick. com and he’s on the web at www.philhardwick.com
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