The Patient as a Customer

Combining customer service and quality patient care can be a challenge

Working in retail healthcare for the past eight years, I have learned that one of the most unique aspects of our role is learning to see the patient as a customer first.

The idea that the “customer is always right” doesn’t always hold true when it comes to clinical practice. Our challenge in practice is to tie both ideas together, giving the patient the best customer service possible, while attending to evidence based practice needs. What I have found is that the healthcare industry is one of the only industries where the customer’s needs and opinions are not often the core foundation of care delivery.

A practical example of how this looks in everyday NP practice is antibiotic avoidance. Every day in retail health, we have patients lining up for their magic Zpack in hopes that we will dispense this with first sign of a cough or nasal congestion.

As clinicians we know that avoiding inappropriate antibiotic use is a pivotal part of evidence based practice and provides protection against the ever increasing superbugs. With this in mind, the challenge is before us with each patient to tie good customer service with evidence based practice.

Keeping in mind that the patient is a customer first, we focus on validating the customer’s need. In most cases of acute illness, this means first validating that the patient does not feel well. In fact, there is much evidence that validation of illness is one of the driving factors in patient visits.

Keeping the customer focus as providers, we listen attentively to the patient’s description of illness. While it may be evident within a few minutes that the patient does not need an antibiotic, the key is listening with concern. Following this purposeful listening is the focus on what can be done for the patient.

Thinking of how I can help a patient/customer has really revolutionized how I care for my patients in retail. After an appropriate history and exam, I affirm the negative findings intently. Then, I tell the patient what can be done to help alleviate symptoms. Finally, when the patient asks about the Zpack, I mention that viruses do not respond to antibiotics and that rest and fluids will prove to be the most effective for symptom relief.

Oftentimes from this approach I see the transformation take place in my mind, where my patient has become my customer. Working as a provider in this setting, as well as leading professional practice for others, I have found the following four principles are key in transforming my mindset in care of my patient/customer:

  • Validating the customers need
  • Listening attentively to the customer’s perception of service needed
  • Affirming customer’s need
  • Directing to appropriate care/service by addressing the patient’s perspective specifically.

It is my opinion that as providers we can very easily lose sight of key components of customer service. There is not a discrepancy between good customer service and evidence based practice. The challenge lies in tying the two together, and is an expertise that can be developed through good business principles and quality patient care.

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