In the past year, I have had way too many contacts with the clinical side of the healthcare world. I've had two hip replacement surgeries, and now my knee may need attention in the near future. Recently an event sent me to the emergency room.
Before I go any further, I want to say my general impression has been favorable. The health outcomes seem OK, as I can now walk reasonably well. During my surgeries, just about everyone I came into contact with seemed focused and competent. The anesthesiologists, the surgeon and the nurses did their jobs well. In the ER, the care was competent.
My problem was with the customer service, or lack thereof, in ERs.
I recently needed urgent care because I was hurrying out the door to work and in my haste slammed the car door on a finger. The result was one of those cuts that you know right away needs stitches.
So off I went to my favorite hospital, relatively close to my home. I tried to reach some people I know there so I could get quicker service. I was assured someone would meet me as I entered the facility. I had no sooner entered the ER than my cell phone rang. It was my daughter, who wanted to thank me for a birthday gift. As I began to speak with her, I also heard someone tell me, "No cell phones." I couldn't very well hang up on my daughter, but before I knew it a security officer took me by the elbow and walked me outside. I was a little upset but security is security especially in these times and I went back into the ER. As I entered the officer told me to sit down "in that second chair." I was not pleased by the attitude and I simply left and headed to downtown Chicago to another hospital near my office where I felt I could get decent treatment. It's a large urban institution with an excellent reputation.
Again I called ahead to the administrator's office and was told that I would be met when I arrived. That did occur and I was processed through with five stitches in my hand in about two hours. Everyone was great, including the physician who stitched my hand. I was handed a sheet of paper advising me to have the finger looked at two days later to make sure it was healing properly. I returned to work with my only real worry being whether or not I would be able to play golf over the weekend.
Two days later, however, when I returned to the same ER for that follow-up, I thought it would be quick and routine but it didn't work out that way. I had to go through a process of telling a clerk why I was there and then was advised by her to "sit down over there." I did and about 15 minutes later a nice lady escorted me to an "urgent-care center," where another woman asked for my insurance card and then spent some time getting forms together. I couldn't believe the number of forms. There must have been at least five or six of them and she had to make copies of them as well. When that was done, I was escorted to another area where I again was asked to wait.
To make a long story short, I never saw anybody at the hospital. I simply got up and walked out after telling one of the security people my name and why I was leaving. I waited a good hour and a half for someone to check my stitches and no one even bothered to say anything to me or the other patients who were waiting about why there was such a delay.
I finally ended up seeing my own doctor, who looked at my stitches, smiled and told me to be careful when I closed car doors. It must have taken no more than five minutes.
I'm not alone in having stories about ERs. A few years ago while playing golf with some clients the conversation got around to how long it can take before anyone gets attention in the ER. One gentleman who told his story was the vice chairman of a Fortune 500 company and chairman of a hospital board in suburban Chicago. He recounted: "I was playing tennis one day when I sprained my ankle. It hurt like the devil and I was sure I had broken something so I managed to get to my car with the help of a friend and then I headed to my hospital. I limped into the emergency room, identified myself, gave the attendant my insurance card and then was told to sit down and that someone would be with me shortly. I sat and I sat and eventually about two hours later my ankle began to feel a lot better and I simply got up and left. I was not happy with the treatment I received and at the next board meeting I recited my story and we had a lot of discussion on emergency rooms and people kept waiting much too long."
He realized, as others have, that little things such as taking care of patients in the ER efficiently and quickly can help their institution's overall image in the community. The converse is also true, that failing to do so can result in lost market share very quickly. Complacency is a killer disease and the reason so many businesses suddenly go into a tailspin.
So while you make sure your facility provides excellent clinical care, my advice is to keep a sharp eye on how you treat your customers.
Keep it simple,
360 N. Michigan Ave.
Chicago, Ill. 60601-3806
E-mail: [email protected]
Lauer is the author of two books, Reach for the Stars and Soar with the Eagles, and is an experienced guest lecturer available for public speaking engagements. For more information, visit www.chucklauer.com