There’s always been this question about how effective taking patient surveys are when it pertains to hospital business office services. The concerns are interesting. One concern is that patients usually only comment on billing issues when things are going wrong. The other is that patients will be commenting on how they were treated in other areas of the hospital and not necessarily how they feel about the billing or registration process.

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Both of these concerns are legitimate, because for the most part patients don’t usually see the people who handle the billing, or even talk to them, except possibly in a physician’s offices. Still, I’ve always believed that there should be some methods employed to try to see what’s on patient’s minds. And, by the way, sometimes it’s a Medicare requirement if hospitals don’t fully pass certain types of audits.

Making sure that patients are treated well when they do call can do wonders for these types of surveys. Courtesy is a big must of course, but it has to go further than that. Sounding friendly on the phone isn’t as easy as it seems; sounding competent is even harder. Think about how often you pick up the phone to call someone about either services, products, or complaints, and how it seems like the person picking up the phone not only doesn’t have a clue, but seems more interested in figuring out how to get you off the phone than in talking to you about your issue. If that happens to you, then you can bet you may have someone who’s giving the same impression to your patients and their families; that can’t help you at all.

Billing is a process that starts up front in the registration area. Billing managers can no longer afford to sit back and blame the admitting area for getting bad information because hospital finances can’t survive the lag in payments that causes. They also can’t go around attempting to bully the admissions manager or staff, even if they’re also over that staff. It’s been proven that how you treat people will influence how they treat others. If you’re constantly beating down your admissions people, they will turn that around on your customers; that doesn’t help anyone.

Let’s start with how employees can improve patient satisfaction. Obviously hospital employees are all customer service personnel at the same time as whatever else it is they’re doing, and that’s at all levels. Some are up front, some are on the back end, but most are right on the front lines all day long. There are three areas that are crucial on this front.

One, courtesy; employees must learn to be courteous in all interactions with every single person they encounter, including each other. Doesn’t do any good if they’re nice to the patients, yet in front of the patients are critical of others.

Two, observation. Employees must be even more vigilant in noticing how people are reacting to the situations at hand, and have to be ready to take into account their own feelings. What happens is you as the employee might be uncomfortable with something, but you overlook it because you say you’re too busy, or you’re taking care of someone else, and don’t have time. But if you as the employee are uncomfortable, it’s probable that patients are also uncomfortable.

Three, education. Everyone needs to always be constantly educated not only on their specific jobs and duties, not only on hospital policy, not only on learning how to be courteous and observant and whatever else, but on how to communicate with patients. It’s easy to teach someone how to talk to patients; it’s much harder to teach someone how to “communicate” with them, how to break down what something means, how to take the time to make sure they understand, how to listen to their concerns and actually hear what they’re saying, which isn’t always the same as the words they’re using.

No person can do all of this by themselves, so it helps to have people talking, in teams or in meetings, and sharing their views. One thing folks discover is that they’re not alone with their thoughts, beliefs and feelings, and often that’s all it takes to help employees help themselves and others.

The second question, how patients were treated by all employees while in the hospital, is important because every once in a while there’s less of an opportunity to help with that side of things. Large hospitals may have a whole department that can handle helping patients with their insurances; smaller hospitals don’t have the same option.

When I was at a large facility years ago we had 2 people trained on doing just that type of customer service. They had business cards and were listed in the newspaper and on TV as being people who could help others with their insurance issues. The problem was the people calling on the phone weren’t always patients of our hospital, and we were expected to help out with physicians bills also. It was a valuable service, but in the end the facility wasn’t willing to give all the resources needed to make the service truly user friendly.

At my last facility, which was smaller, I was only allowed so many people to do the specific duties of billing and follow up, and only a specific number of employees for registration or other departments under me. Though I made sure my staff was well trained in their jobs, I didn’t have the luxury of having someone who could be there to only answer patients questions about their insurance or help them with some of the nuances of their HMOs.

When you have so many other factors that could make a significant impact on its outcome, the round about way of answering the second question is that I see value in patient satisfaction surveys, and they could only help hospitals figure out some back end processes. There are just so many factors that could go into having those surveys come out negatively that one would hope those surveys are more about process than “did you like us”. You might not be ready for that particular answer, and it might not be your fault.

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