John Stossel Rebukes Healthcare, Bruce Himelstein Shows a Path Forward
Service and Marketing Expert Responds to John Stossel’s critique of Hospital’s Customer Service
John Stossel, a Fox News Host and Consumer Reporter was recently diagnosed with lung cancer. Upon his trip to the hospital, he reviewed his experience. His findings were clear, great medical care but the customer service “stinks”.
Service guru, Bruce Himelstein, has spent his illustrious career helping companies improve service and culture. Bruce sat down with Executive Speaker’s Bureau to respond to John Stossel’s experience and give health care organizations practical advice for how to improve their customer service.
ESB: What is your background in hospitality and healthcare, and how did you get there?
Himelstein: “I was working in hospitality and was contacted by the president of a hospital after he saw an interview I did. He wanted to see things through a different lens to enrich their patient experience. I was able to challenge and encourage them to identify opportunities and to expand the use of proven hospitality approaches into their healthcare delivery settings. He was wanting to make changes and brought me in.”
ESB: Why do you think this John Stossel article caused such a wave among people?
Himelstein: People are currently surrounded by better service than what they are receiving at hospitals. They recognize and want the experience to be better. This is such a crucial piece for hospitals to understand and make changes to. There is a new wave of companies getting into the healthcare arena, from clinics in the back of a CVS pharmacy to Wal Mart talking about building hospitals. People will have more options on where to receive healthcare and patient experience will play into that decision.
ESB: John Stossel was very clear in his article that customer service at hospitals “stinks”. Why is that the case for a lot of people’s experience?
Himelstein: There is no accountability or leadership in those areas. Hospitals’ dollars come from care not service, so all of the focus is on the healthcare provided. People are looking for creature comforts, not better care. Don’t stick them in a waiting room for an hour and not communicate with them. Don’t run a bunch of tests and not tell them what they are for. Have an employee there to sympathize with them and proactively tell them why you are doing what you are doing.
ESB: Where does the blame lie for this bad service?
Himelstein: When the President of Shady Grove Hospital called me it was on his own behalf. It was not HR or some other group, it was the head of the organization. It has to start from the top down and be cultural shift. Once hospitals start tying dollars and incentives to good service then you will see change. A great idea is for hospitals to add service awards to recognize and celebrate good service amongst its employees.
ESB: In his article Stossel talks about the lack of communication with his Doctors being one of his biggest problems. How can healthcare programs improve their communication with patients and learn practical ways to improve their service?
Himelstein: “No kidding. It’s awful he had to experience it. Was there no one there who didn’t understand or sympathize him? If you put them in a room for 45 minutes and shut the door, that makes someone feel uncared for and unimportant. Someone knocking on the door and saying hey this what is going on and why it is taking so long would go a long way in making that experience better. A great place to start the conversation of where to change the culture is to set up focus groups. Talk to patients who have been released. You need to get them in a comfortable environment with people who are going to listen, with compassion. Ask them about their experience, how they felt, and what they would like to see. Make sure you listen to your front line people employees as well. What do they see as issues? How do they need to be better resourced? Both employees and customers want to be involved in creating the environment. You’re given the gift of feedback so use it.”
ESB: What would be your first piece of advice to a hospital CEO who wants to change the perception and experience at their hospital?
Himelstein: “The first thing that I tell everyone is to walk the hospital environment. That is what I did initially when I began on the hospital board. Know where things are lacking, aren’t being paid attention to. Every detail reflects on the service that will be given. You can’t go too far in planning and demonstrating how much you care about who you’re serving. Whether it be hospitality or hospitals, every move puts you in a better place. You can never offer service that is too good. There is no limit. Three hours before my first meeting on the hospital board I walked around, made a list of 25 things, nothing to do with health, but they weren’t looking for details. I saw things like ripped chairs, old pay phones, and dirty microwaves. People make opinions not just the level of care, it’s all the other things. The waiting, the amount the time, follow ups, care, etc.is what makes up their opinions on their hospital experience.”
ESB: What are some universal things that all companies should look for in giving proper customer service?
Himelstein: “Really, it’s so simple. It’s trying to do your best to accommodate the needs of a customer. Having empathy skills is critical. Eye contact, listening and communicating proactively are critical empathy skills. You hire for that behavior in your employees, not for skills. That behavior alone will lead to an improved patient experience.”