Recently, I had pain in my lower back, hips, legs, ankles and feet. When a combination of rest, pain medication, and anti-inflammatory drugs did not resolve the problem, my PCP ordered a CT of my spine and I sought treatment from a specialist. Uncertain which specialty to consult, I made appointments with a pain specialist and a neurosurgeon.

The waiting room of the pain specialist was crowded, there were few chairs, people were standing, and the air was hot and humid. After waiting about 45 minutes, I was called into the examination area where the practice’s staff worked. The temperature in this area was very comfortable; definitely cooler than in the waiting room, and the staff did not seem concerned.

As for my "examination", the Physician Assistant asked a series of questions, which I had already answered on this practice’s intake form. When the physician entered, I offered him the CD of my CT and the radiologist’s written report. Curiously, this physician never performed a physical examination or reviewed my CT, which I pointed out, was on his desk. After asking me about my current pain level, this physician offered to perform a spinal block in the office that afternoon!

In contrast, the neurosurgeon's waiting room was busy, but not overcrowded, the air conditioning was working, and I met with this physician within 5 minutes of the scheduled appointment time. Again I brought the disk of my CT and the radiologist’s report, all of which the neurosurgeon reviewed before subjecting me to a physical examination. We discussed alternative courses of action including do nothing, take pain medication and physical therapy for the foreseeable future, another nerve block, and surgery, which I chose.

At the hospital my concerns concerning privacy, ambient noise, sterility, and staff unresponsiveness were quickly allayed. The receptionist had my medical record, confirmed my information, and answered all of my questions. Although there were a number of people waiting to be admitted, someone came over and assured me that I had not been forgotten. Within 30 minutes I was taken to the operating theatre and prepped for surgery.

Post-surgery, the hospital's staff let my family members know that everything had gone well and brought them back to me. In addition, the surgeon went out and answered my family members’ questions. Throughout my one-night stay, every member of the hospital’s staff I encountered was both professionally competent and took the time to patiently answer any questions I or my family members had.

Is there any doubt which of these 2 physicians will be receiving any further business from me, or will be the one to whom I refer patients in the future? And when I receive the payer’s customer satisfaction survey for each physician, there is little doubt which one will be more highly rated.

The march toward alternative methods for reimbursing physicians and other healthcare providers is well underway. Controlling cost, while delivering quality healthcare items and services, has become the healthcare industry’s mantra. Patient satisfaction/customer relations is one area that healthcare providers can and should be addressing now – it is largely under the provider’s control. Moreover, as patients become responsible for larger deductibles and coinsurance amounts, they will self-select those providers who are able to provide care in a manner that satisfies most reasonable expectations.

There are several relatively inexpensive steps providers should consider adopting in order to shore up their customer relations efforts:

  1. Stop overbooking; the ability to operate in a timely manner is a key to ensuring patient satisfaction.
  2. When delays occur, keep patients informed of what is happening.
  3. Do not ignore information a patient provides - listen to the customer!
  4. Always apply the Golden Rule.