Customer service is such an integral part of Health IT’s culture and function, the obvious is often unsaid: Health IT is truly a customer service affair. Health IT vendors must keep providers happy.  The IS Service function within a healthcare organization, -whether it is a  small provider practice or national chain, must also keep providers happy

Ironically, “Happy” is not a word often used in the same sentence as Health IT by users or administrators. Prolific legislation has forced significant (and often unwanted) change on users and expense to administrators. This external pressure is compounded by the growing pains of evolving technology.    Despite this negative pressure, vendors and IT functions know they are inherently replaceable, and therefore focus on whatever it is that makes their employer happy.

Stuart Leung at Salesforce says “To some, good customer service is as simple as solving problems and offering solutions in an expedient manner. To others it means overall pleasantness and politeness from those who represent the front lines of the company.”

There are aspects of customer service somewhat unique to Health IT(more on those below)  However, here are a few universal aspects of customer service from Forbes :  

  • Don’t Make Your Customers Wait  – This one needs no additional explanation.  
  • Transaction Transparency – Are systems working how users expect them to, -and when they don’t is it easy for them to understand why? 
  • Help Them Help You – Be proactive in helping the users, rather than waiting for them to reach out.
  • Build Trust and They Will Come – Consistent experience and trust build loyal customers

The Customers

Health IT organizations usually have both internal and external customers.  The idea of ‘internal customers’, -people and groups within your own organization,  may be new to some, but cost center internal services like IT have been operating this way for decades.  Treating internal staff like customers fosters respect and responsiveness, as well as (hopefully) increasing satisfaction with the service.  Some employers use internal cost accounting for IT when it provides services internally.  This adds another layer of detailed financial information to measure and evaluate IT,  as well as contributing to the customer service culture. Management frameworks like Six Sigma even recommend treating internal users like customers to improve the work environment.  

External customers are easy to understand inthe case of IT consultant companies and vendors:  The costumer is the person or group your are delivering a service and/or product to.  These customers are often providers and provider organizations.   However in  healthcare, patients (and their representatives) are external customers as well.

The Patient as the Customer

Although we do not often think of them as customers, patients may be the most important customer among all of the stakeholders. AMIA Lists the following customer service tips aimed directly at patients. Half of them (1through 5)  consider  the patient as a customer.

  1. Promote and support patients’ use of portals
  2. Help patients navigate the system and improve health literacy
  3. When communicating with patients speak in simple language, and avoid HIM and other medical jargon
  4. Attempt to recognize variances in health literacy and be understanding
  5. Help healthcare consumers understand the importance of creating and maintaining a PHR
  6. Remain up-to-date and competent through continuing HIM education and training
  7. Be visible and easily accessible to all internal customers, and respond in a timely manner
  8. Be proactive-keep customers in the loop, and communicate HIM needs with internal customers
  9. Change your voicemail messages daily, and keep up on callbacks
  10. Seek feedback regarding HIM customer service