By Matt Gretczko
Aug 23, 2013 – Whether you have stayed at a luxury hotel or not, it is rather common knowledge that while staying at these accommodations, guests have the opportunity to press “0” on their phone. Unlike in the customer service world for consumer products (where “0” may just forward you onto the next computer automated sequence), within the services industry, this selection often directs you to a concierge – a dedicated representative who is focused on answering any question you may have or fulfilling your every request. Concierge services provide the guest with direct access to a highly-trained individual, on their schedule, who can address their concerns. Seems similar to what we want from healthcare? You bet.
This is the concept of direct care and it has been around for a while. However, it is being rebranded and experiencing a significant increase in popularity given current healthcare regulations and changing patient statistics.
Concierge. Boutique. Direct care.
There are many different names. The growing need to provide patients with greater transparency and healthcare access, coupled with changing patient demographics and reimbursement policies, have led to a new population of providers focused on direct medicine. Charging a minimal fee (annual or monthly), paid by patients (regardless of their insurance), to guarantee some of the following services:
- 24/7 access to the doctor
- Same day/last minute appointments
- Decreased appointment wait times
- Extended doctor visits
- Alternative consultation methods (i.e. email)
As outlined in a Forbes article entitled, “Is concierge Medicine Right for You,” the author details that this approach can have a number of benefits, including:
- Relative affordability of the service
- Choice creates flexibility
- Patient benefits – decreased costs due to less hospitalizations and readmissions
- Physician benefits – greater job satisfaction
The goal of this transition to concierge health service is to develop a model where patients receive high-quality care at a fair price. In addition, it seeks to alleviate many of the frustrations of providers, and patients, within the rapidly changing healthcare landscape. Although this may not be a viable approach for the entire country, if a subset of patients and doctors are able to reach an amicable agreement, it may assist in lessening the burden and creating more efficiency for the broader population.
It’s not just for delivery of care
What’s even more intriguing about this trend is that concierge type service levels are not only being desired and implemented for the delivery of care to patients; many organizations, companies, and technologies are capitalizing on the global request by providers to have a more refined experience as well. Providers often seek out healthcare systems or companies that provide a concierge-like approach to onboarding and credentials management. This ensures that the bi-annual maintenance of credentials, as well as activities like privileging and enrollment that may potentially occur across multiple hospitals or practices, is less about documentation and more about information. Providers have direct contact with trained professionals who consistently and effectively notify them of upcoming document expirations and needed certifications or licenses, to ensure that they are not hassled consistently throughout the year. In addition, this information is maintained electronically to eliminate the complexity of paper.
Organizations have often found that by consolidating these activities into a shared service center whereby economies of scale can capitalize on technology and processes, the business case for such a switch is rather seamless.
With that said, this is not an article about the benefits of customer service. This is an article about ensuring the market finds the most effective way to deliver services to people – supply/demand economics applied to healthcare. Concierge or direct medicine may not solve all of the issues within the healthcare space; it may even cause additional ones. However, the industry must start recognizing the need to adopt creative and alternative solutions to delivering care, regardless of the healthcare policies that are instituted.
Healthcare is not alone in this endeavor. The hospitality industry has also made some tweaks. Recently, as outlined in an article by Yahoo! Finance, entitled “The End of Restaurant Tipping,” many high end restaurants have started to eliminate tipping and instead have imbedded the projected “cost” of tip into total meal price. The implication is not that higher costs equate to better service. Instead, the goal is to realign the nexus of cost to create more desirable results. In doing so, it helps ensure that the services provided equate to the price being charged. They believe this will inherently raise the level of service delivered to the customer, resulting in a better experience at the same total cost. Even further, a plethora of applications for smartphones have determined how to better deliver standard services (taxis, laundry, food) in a more effective manner (i.e. on demand).
This time around, healthcare needs to lead the charge as opposed to following behind. Healthcare can capitalize on the trend of delivering services in more creative and effective manners by instituting new models and processes, and also leveraging technological advancements that make information sharing and communication much easier across the enterprise.