Having observed dozens of providers and staff members in their natural work environment, we have seen and heard a lot. But some of the personal stories that we’ve heard are hard to forget and worth sharing. These stories shed light on the truth about healthcare communications and the workflows of these dedicated, and often over-worked, staff members.
For example, a back-office administrator once told me that on a daily basis he would leave his desk and go sit in his car in order to escape the incessant ringing of the office telephone. Let’s think about that- the sheer volume of phone calls to this office is enough to drive the employee off premises. If we consider leaving the office to be the extreme end of the spectrum, think about how much stress and dissatisfaction occurred along the way to that breaking point. Imagine how that stress manifests itself. Is it fair to ask that employee to provide a high level of service for all 200 calls that he needs to take in a day? Could you provide a high level of service if you had to take a phone call from a patient ever 2 minutes for your 8 hour shift? And what about the voicemail queue that is building? And the additional paperwork that is also part of your job description?
Another example was a staff member who told me that it often took 2-3 phone calls to complete the rescheduling of an appointment. Why? Because 80% of the time the patient did not answer their call. When the patient calls back, the staff member was on the other line so the patient left a voicemail. It takes several rounds of “phone tag” to actually connect. That is inherently a problem with synchronous communications (see this article for the benefits of using asynchronous communication technologies), and is compounded in larger offices that have multiple staff members answering the phone (“But I just spoke with Sam about rescheduling my appointment! What do you mean I have to hold on…”).
The truth is these employees are being told by their bosses that they need to create a positive patient experience, but often are not given the support and tools they need to be successful. Another way to think about it is to understand that staff satisfaction is directly related to patient satisfaction. One practice told us that all of their negative reviews on social rating sites (Yelp! HealthGrades, etc.) had nothing to do with the doctor or the care their patients received, but focused on the administrative challenges their patients had (the waiting room experience, trouble making appointments, lack of communication, etc.).
So who’s to blame? It’s hard to blame the doctors- after all, many of them just want to practice medicine. And it’s hard to blame the practice administrators- they can’t help that the phone is the front door to their practice, and they often can’t afford to hire yet another employee- that’s an expensive way to scale a business. So maybe it is our fault- the technology companies who work in this space. Despite all of the innovation in healthcare (especially in diagnostics and imaging), we have neglected the primary way that patients and their care team communicate- through the telephone.
OneReach is working hard to lead the way and create change that will enhance the patient experience, improve the lives of staff members, help to reduce the costs of healthcare, and ultimately contribute to better health outcomes. Let us know if you want to help us, or if we can help you. We are in this together. After all, we are patients, too.
Photo by Flickr user Juhan Sonin.