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Why first impressions matter
Nearly half of respondents (48 percent) to a hospital/healthcare CEO survey say that “patient experience and satisfaction” is among their top three priorities in the next three years.1
Yet Accenture research shows providers falling short in meeting customer expectations in appointment scheduling—the first opportunity to create satisfying patient experiences. As today’s healthcare consumers look beyond clinical care to select doctors, will poor scheduling have big consequences for providers?
To better understand provider scheduling, Accenture made more than 1,000 phone calls to schedule appointments across various specialties in 28 hospital systems in five US metropolitan areas. The experience revealed that providers trail other industries in basic customer service metrics during scheduling:2
View the Accenture’s provider scheduling findings in this chart.
1 HealthLeaders Media, CEO Report: Optimism on the Upswing, January 20132 Cross-industry averages and best practice benchmarks provided by Benchmark Portal, All Industries Benchmark Report: Best-in-Class Call Center Performance, May 2013
Healthcare reform and the digital revolution have transformed patients into healthcare consumers. They are shopping for and selecting caregivers based on service and price, not just quality of care. As such, providers must address patient service and satisfaction as competitive differentiators in the new marketplace.
Not only do patients demand a more active role in their care, they expect health IT tools that enable ready access. Such technology is readily available in other industries with complex scheduling systems, such as airlines or restaurants, even dental or primary care.
Providers must recognize that healthcare consumers will not tolerate unwieldy scheduling calls. With the potential to bear more out-of-pocket expenses in today’s post healthcare reform environment, patients will look to measures beyond quality of care—such as convenience of access—in selecting their doctors.
Making calls to schedule appointments across various specialties in 28 hospital systems in five US metropolitan areas, Accenture discovered the following:
Long wait times mean long call times
The average time to complete a scheduling call was 8.1 minutes—three minutes longer than the national average call length. 1 This call time also exceeds the cross-industry best practice of 3.7 minutes, topping both cable industry (5.4 minutes) and banking industry (3.7 minutes) averages.
More than 30 percent of call duration was “unproductive time,” with callers sitting in queue, waiting on hold with an agent or transferring between agents. Provider agents took one minute to answer calls. This lag compares to an average speed to answer of just 39 seconds across industries and the cross-industry best practice (23 seconds).
Calls are transferred—again and again
The frequent need to transfer calls contributed to lengthy call times. In fact, provider agents transferred calls 63 percent of the time. This percentage is higher than national averages (11 percent), cable industry (11 percent) and banking industry (13.5 percent) averages, and cross-industry best practices (5.7 percent) combined.
Issues are not always resolved the first time
Despite long wait times and frequent transferring, Accenture callers were still largely unsuccessful in scheduling an appointment on the first attempt. Only a disappointing 59 percent of calls resulted in a scheduled appointment on the first try. This rate of first call resolution falls below cross-industry averages by 18 percent and below best practices by 25 percent.
1 National averages are for inbound calls to business-to-business and consumer-to-business call centers across 25 industries.
Without making changes in the appointment scheduling process, providers can expect the patient experience to continue to deteriorate, potentially driving people to seek treatment elsewhere—or even not at all—which can impact health outcomes and revenue.
Forward-thinking providers are making inroads. Some are developing health IT solutions that understand patient conditions and match them with right-skilled providers. Centralizing call centers helps agents schedule appointments across systems, reducing hold times and transfers. Training and scripting standardize patient experiences. Providers are also empowering people with digital scheduling tools, simultaneously giving them the control they want and reducing call volume.
Patient satisfaction can often begin with scheduling. With demand rising for patient access, providers must act now to get first impressions right before consumers walk in—and revenue walks out.
Download the PDF to explore why the stakes are changing for today’s healthcare providers.
January 8, 2014
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