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The Future of Health Care in America: The Provider's Perspective

Clint Maun, CSP

Health care in America is rapidly changing. Today’s health care system calls for an explicit understanding of the changing influences that affect the true results for any successful healthcare organization.

Medicare and Medicaid are coming closer together as a federal program. One day they will look almost alike; in fact it is quite plausible that Medicaid will be for all intents and purposes federalized, as is Medicare. You, as a customer, might be able to buy a Medicaid placement in one state for the same level of quality, price and perceived satisfaction level as in any other state. The federal government is extremely interested in proposals right now that will effectively remove themselves from the economic burden of long-term health care.

This "new" health care consumer, or "customer" will become much more knowledgeable about what is occurring in long-term care, how to shop it, how to measure the quality of care being provided and how to make intelligent choices. Insurance companies will provide tomorrow’s customers with some assistance in making more educated choices. We expect these companies will remain uninvolved in the actual processing of the quality of choice. Instead, consumer groups that provide education programs will assist these new, increasingly quality conscious customers to make informed decisions about their health care needs.

As providers of health care, it is one thing to philosophically think of the individuals we serve as residents, patients, visitors and families. It is quite another thing to conceptualize them in the role of customer. In fact, health care is the only professional service business remaining that elects to call the end users of its products or services everything else but customers. We are not saying that we must start calling them customers; however, we are stating that we must increase our knowledge about customer relationship skills within health care organizations.

Many organizations we work with throughout the country have us specifically involved in projects that improve the level of customer awareness, the handling of difficult customers, and training associated with specific "moments of truth" that make or break any organization in the customer relations area. In our business, we ask organizations to take an in-depth look at how they train, educate and hold employees accountable for specific customer relationship skills. Organizations will become more accountable as the increasingly educated customer base encourages competition between organizations to take occur.

Many organizations allow their staff to make silly excuses why responsibilities can’t be accomplished. Statements such as, "We’re working short today; That’s not my job; We’re doing the best we can; We have 100 others just like your mother to take care of here; You don’t realize what kind of stress I’m under," do nothing to improve customer relations skills to hold staff accountable for meeting the customer’s desires or needs.

With the increased importance of satisfying customer’s perception of our service, price, quality of care and results orientation, organizations need to take proactive steps to provide training in competency-based customer relations skills to all employees. This is the only way to effectively respond to increased scrutiny by customers.

With over 30 years of experience in health care, it is apparent to me that a major problem many health care workers suffer from is a poor or diminished self-respect. It is difficult to teach customer relationship skills if employees don’t have healthy self-respect. We have often heard people say things like, "I’m just a nurse," or grudgingly state, "Oh, I only work up at the home," as if these are things of which to be ashamed. This lack of self-respect is a major problem to gaining genuine respect in the community, your potential customers.

It is important in on-going customer relationship training that every individual in an organization be exposed to a specific set of skills, such as how to maintain eye contact, how to shake hands, how to smile, how to tell people your 30 second commercial about who you are, what you do and why you are glad to do it. We believe it is important to instill a sense of PRIDE in every individual and help them see how important they are in this business of caring for people in need. Organizations must provide specific skill training require accountability in handling situations where their own self-respect is on the line.

Case study training programs where individuals are asked to demonstrate how they would deal with everyday difficult situations, work well by helping people practice the necessary skills to feel their own sense of self-respect. These programs include: how to meet and greet people, how to handle direct put-downs of the organization out in the public, how to deal with a personal stress situation at work, how to have appropriate confrontational skills with a peer, and how to handle the feelings of frustration that might come from dealing with difficult customers.

The message is: "If you are going to work in this big profession health care you need to start by acting like a professional yourself." It is important for people to have a sense of dignity and purpose about their jobs, which can’t be accomplished unless they have the ability to see it within themselves.

In conclusion, it is possible to quickly and efficiently train individuals within the organization to have increased competency based customer relationship skills, as well as an increased competency based self-respect approach to difficult situations. We find these two issues to be the top two facing today’s health care providers as they prepare to meet tomorrow’s new health care customers.