In the words of Peter Drucker widely considered the father of modern management Quality in a service or product is not what you put into it. It is what the client or customer gets out of it. How does the medical tourism industry measure business success? The obvious answer is through financial statements and growing patient volume.
The data to evaluate success is typically easy to find and most hospital leaders and medical tourism facilitators can recite the numbers from memory. But in service industries customer satisfaction is the primary driver of profitability and growth.
Medical tourism websites and marketing departments tout customer service excellence but how many of us have objective data to prove it? Do we take the time to determine how we provide excellent customer service and do we even know what it means?
Feedback is the Breakfast of Champions
Measuring customer satisfaction by the absence of complaints or the presence of compliments is a common and very costly error. Studies show few people provide feedback either positive or negative unless they are asked to do so. Relying on anecdotal information is akin to gauging financial success by the absence of collection notices.
Just as a business needs reliable financial data the service industry requires customer satisfaction data to measure success and identify areas for improvement.What are our patients needs and how do we measure our success in meeting those needs?
Medical tourists want to know that they will return home safely and in good health in short peace of mind. Patients need to feel cared for safe secure and must know that travel facilitators and caregivers have their best interests at heart. Building the reputation of our industry requires creating an outstanding impression. After all perception is truth. How do we know we have achieved this goal?
Is a Satisfied Patient Good Enough?
Have you ever been to a restaurant and received satisfactory service and food? Chances are good you were not hungry when you left. But what are the chances you will return much less promote the restaurant to your friends and family?Like the satisfied diner a medical tourist who receives quality care and the desired outcome will be a satisfied patient.
However satisfaction sets the bar low. Excellence is the metric that secures long term success. A satisfied customer does not create future business but an enthusiastic one does.In the competitive medical tourism industry extremely satisfied patients drive future success.
Giving patients more than they expect to get generates repeat visits glowing recommendations and a solid reputation. While satisfied customers certainly do not hurt business delighted customers turn into outstanding marketing tools and deliver long term profitability.
Processes People Trust and Loyalty
Consider the hierarchy of needs that forms a patients perception of excellence. When we measure patient satisfaction we must distinguish two factors: processes and people. Processes form the base of the hierarchy. But as minimum expectations they have relatively low correlation to overall satisfaction.
Medical tourism processes include scheduling transferring medical records compiling cost quotes etc. If your processes are truly awful chances are good the customer will not do business with you in the first place. Slow follow-up confusing communications poor translation and complicated forms can be deal breakers.
As industry competition grows potential patients have more and more options for obtaining service. If presentation is inadequate another destination hospital or facilitator is only a click away. Remember if you don meet your customers needs your competition will. As important as processes are they are inherently limited.
Simple forms and efficient procedures alone will not create a perception of excellence.An excellent example of the limitations of a process is hospital food service. Despite our efforts in the kitchen it is nearly impossible to cater to every patients tastes all the time. How often do we hear people rave about hospital food?
The bottom line is that patients don have high expectations for a superb hospital dining hospital meals will never be as good as at home. After all no one has said You should have surgery at Hospital X because the dinner menu is out of this world.Once we lay a foundation of effective processes people factors become the next level in the hierarchy toward overall satisfaction.
The true quality of our work depends on the quality of our people. The decisive drivers of ongoing growth and success in healthcare are people factors. When it comes right down to it our customers greatest fears are death and permanent injury. Our processes do not manage fear only our people can manage fear.People create peace of mind for patients in turn demonstrating excellence by:
- Listening to and understanding patients fears and needs
- Letting them know we care about them as individuals
- Responding to their requests (or anticipating them in advance!)
- Managing pain
- Telling patients what to expect and making sure they understand
- Ensuring they have the overall feeling of safety and security when they are in our hands
- Effectively communicating with patients and amongst ourselves
- Promptly and successfully resolving conflicts
- Keeping patients and families informed of changes
Customers form perceptions of excellence from processes and most importantly people. Exceptionally satisfied patients are passionate advocates for your services. Customers who trust your care and services become loyal and will refer their friends and families. From a business perspective trust and loyalty drive profitability.
How Do I Get Feedback?
The electronic nature of our global medical tourism industry makes development and distribution of customer surveys a snap. Gone are the days of paper surveys that require manual compilation. A simple search on Google delivers many options for free or low cost survey tools that can be emailed to patients immediately following care for anonymous response.
Further consulting services are available often at flat rates to develop tools and set up processes for ongoing performance measurement and results analysis.The most effective survey measures satisfaction through a four-point scale: were patients exceptionally satisfied satisfied dissatisfied or very dissatisfied? Do they strongly disagree agree disagree or strongly disagree with statements such as caregivers communicated effectively.
Choose the indicators you want to track and keep the questions simple.Although surveys should be anonymous patients should be given the opportunity to request follow-up to their feedback. This provides tremendous opportunity to improve a negative perception by letting the patient know we care. An added value to follow-up is the opportunity to obtain positive testimonials.
Communicate the Results
Avoid the common trap of collecting customer feedback and failing to analyze and report results. You don need a statistician to evaluate the data. Most importantly communicate the results to the people who affect them and develop action plans to improve. What is measured improves what is measured publicly improves faster.
Hospitals and facilitators should have open dialogue on the results of their surveys. Even negative indicators should be reported to stakeholders. As part of ongoing improvement let stakeholders know what patients truly think of your services as well as the actions you are implementing to improve performance.
And when your patients rave about you spread the word. Let all prospective patients know your success via your website and marketing. There is no better testimonial of commitment to exceptional service than objective data to prove it.
Tonya Walton has 16 years of US hospital leadership experience and is based in Austin Texas. In addition to her role as founder of Blue Morpho Medical Travel she represents Gooch and Associates as Manager of Latin American Business Development. Tonya is available for customer service program development and training and can be reached at email@example.com.