As retailers are turning away from using the phrase “customer service”, hospitals and clinics especially in medical tourism are embracing this phrase wholeheartedly.
Medical providers define customer service according to their own needs. Mostly, as evidenced in hospitals I’ve worked with, “customer service” exists to provide basic hotel concierge or bell desk services – book a car and driver for a trip to the immigration office, find a hotel room, store luggage, order flowers.
Is there a hospital customer service representative with the authority to schedule surgery with a popular “sold out” surgeon? Or put a patient at the top of the list in radiology or adjust a bill to placate a disgruntled patient?
Can “customer service” guarantee satisfaction? Give refunds?
Some may view these as silly questions but they illustrate the traditional limitations of “customer service” in a health care environment.
Today, patients need more explanations, more hand holding, more “steering through the system” by the hospital team to navigate modern medicine with its increasing complexities and choices. Patients need to be better informed.
The Cleveland Clinic in the U.S. has chosen to address some of these new and persistent demands by creating a “patient navigator” service, aiming to serve one aspect of a patient’s episode of care – one-on-one navigation through the system, guiding a patient through an often bewildering path to administrative clerks, lab technicians and specialists.
The Cleveland Clinic doesn’t falsely promise a vague “customer service”, with implied “customer satisfaction”. It promises assistance to navigate the corridors of modern health care.
The patient navigator is primarily trained as a customer service representative, providing the friendly greetings and courteous support that an empathetic and responsive customer service rep should offer in any industry: smile, introduce yourself, listen attentively, develop rapport, and thank the customer.
While this navigator service, at least in name, may be a more honest and transparent form of hospital concierge or hospital customer service, a navigator’s main function is to serve the hospital rather than the patient.
Beyond patient navigators for medical tourists
The needs of medical travelers go beyond what a hospital-based or hospital-employed navigator or concierge can honestly deal with. Medical travelers need more answers, more options, faster responses from their health care providers. Because they are more informed by their scouring of the internet, participating in chat rooms, and talking with other patients, they have certain notions about what providers should or could do for them. They want to be more informed about the costs of care, about the management of their care, about the delivery of their care.
Customer service representatives or patient navigators are not prepared to respond to these needs and provide this information. Hospital management, for the most part, prefers to ignore them.
Yet these are the very needs of medical travelers that medical tourism providers – hospitals, clinicians, facilitators and agents – cannot afford to ignore.