We talk about good vs bad customer experiences. And we give examples of organizations that do things well or poorly. But we rarely are able to shine the light on a truly horrific experience. We found one in our latest healthcare experience.
Complexity is Not an Excuse
When I was in JetBlue Airlines we had a few pretty awful stories that can only come from being in the business of travel in a space as complex as the airline industry. These events do not qualify as horror experiences because they happened as a consequence of bad circumstances. They were never designed to happen, nor were they the result of lack of empathy or care on behalf of JetBlue. In fact, we all felt bad. That is why we talked about negative customer experiences and worked to fix them.
Recently, my experience with my daughter’s healthcare provider was the result of poor design; non existent or bad system interactions; and lack of processes to manage end-to-end patient experience. My experience was horrifying because I, an entrepreneur and new mom, was sent to collections as a result of a mistake.
The Invisible Patient Journey
On June 3rd, my then 7 month old baby got sick for the first time. Terrified, I decided to use the telemedicine visit her provider advertises. When the time came to turn on the app, it prompted me to pay for my visit BEFORE the doctor joined the call. I paid and forgot about it.
Since June 3rd, we have visited our pediatrician four times. After every visit, at checkout I ask if we have an outstanding balance. The answer is always no.
Last week, I returned from vacation to find a COLLECTION letter in my mailbox. The letter states we owe our pediatrician $40. When I called to ask about it, I learned that we owe money from a June 3rd visit. When I proved I paid in June, the representative said I owed money for February and, in June, the system applied my $40 payment to the February bill. So according to them, I never paid for the June 3rd visit.
In response, I paid the $40 via phone. At this point, the representative assured me the provider’s billing department will CALL the collection agency to cancel that claim.
No apology. No acknowledgement of any wrongdoing by the provider. And no email confirmation that I paid and now have a zero balance.
Today, I went to my online portal and saw the annoying “No Name on File” welcome message. Then I found out I now owe them $80!!
Simple Solutions Nobody Cares to Implement
Let’s talk fixes. I never complain without offering a solution. Weill Cornell, if you read this, apply these very simple fixes that won’t break the bank:
- Implement a Data Council that can clean up your data and ensure you have names of each account for the patient digital experience. Stop using bad data. “No name on File” is not how make you make a connection with your patients.
- Integrate your telemedicine solution with your physical practice. Even if it is expensive to fully integrate the systems, find a way to make those experiences unified and on brand. There is no excuse for the checkout personnel in the doctor’s office not to see outstanding balances for televisits. If that is too expensive to do, at the very least, make sure the patient knows that the telemedicine is a separate organization.
- Invest in a mobile notifications solution and tell your patients when they owe you money. Do not let them go to collection over $40!
- Emails – send confirmation emails every time there is a payment. And include a summary of the outstanding balance, if there is one.
- Tweak the algorithm to know that an 11 month old baby should not be the one receiving communications.
- Train your billing team on hospitality. Likely, billing is the team that gets the most calls. The greeting: “What is your account number?” indicates you train people NOT to practice hospitality.
How It Should Work (a few ideas to get you started)
Front desk staff should have access to a dashboard that is updated hourly and shows my appointments and my baby’s appointments (physical and digital). Additionally, the front desk should be able to remind us about and collect payment for any service that we might have used, regardless of the internal complex relationship among vendors.
A personalized welcome message that says something warm like “Welcome Back, Ms. Petrova!” (vs. today’s “No Patient Name on File”) goes a long way to creating a positive customer experience.
The account hierarchy needs to make sense. I should be able to see and I should be prompted to open messages that pertain to my daughter’s health. In contrast, under the current design, my daughter’s account and mine are the same level. And when I swap them, I can see Cornell has sent my newborn daughter follow-ups and other messages that she clearly cannot read herself!
Representatives should engage with callers and ask them something else before they engage in the necessary transaction. They should have a dashboard in front of them that includes information about us, including my daughter’s history of appointments, medications, etc.
Personalized emails should be sent every time I incur a new balance. In addition, once a month, we should get a statement that itemizes the transactions for the month and gives a summary of what we owe. I should have received an email confirmation that the letter I received from the credit bureau is no longer in effect so I do not worry about my credit score. Email (or text message) reminders of appointments would be nice.
Other providers already have done this. Finally, remember to send a feedback survey about my experience in a digital form. This reinforces to me that you care about my experience and provides you with the information you need to improve future patient experiences.