athenahealth COO Ed Park: Lessons on customer service from Amazon

Why is there such a big different between Amazon and the healthcare experience? This is the question Ed Park, executive vice president and COO of athenahealth posed to the audience during Becker's Hospital Review's 6th Annual Meeting in Chicago. The answer, he proposed, is Amazon's unwavering commitment to always make decisions that are in the best interest of the customer.

In its quest to deliver superior customer service, Amazon harnessed big data, according to Mr. Park. By analyzing click screen data, Amazon could optimize data centers and stock them with the right items to make them convenient for customers. As part of the company's commitment to customer-centricity, it decided the right thing to do would be to rent its online presence.

"Amazon knows you don't care who you are buying something from. You care about the brand, price, size and a whole other variety of factors," Mr. Park said.

The online retail company would even rent space to competitors to help sell more products. In 2007, with the release of the Kindle, Amazon demonstrated it was willing to disrupt its entire business foundation — as the business had been previously been centered on the distribution of printed books — because it is more convenient for customers to upload any book within 60 seconds then wait for shipping.

"Amazon doesn't care about owning the customer. If it is the right thing for Amazon to do, they will take a backseat to another company," said Mr. Park. "They just want to be a part of the value train."

If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together

The key for healthcare to achieve Amazon's success in consumer-centricity is collaboration. In terms of data information storage and sharing, many warehouses are still running on paper charts. For those who have made the switch to EHRs, precision is not much better, because the data generated by EHRs are "prehistoric" by Internet standards, according to Mr. Park. There are stark differences in the technology infrastructure in Silicon Valley than what's in healthcare, he said.

As with Amazon, healthcare entities must cultivate the willingness to collaborate with other systems — even competitors — when it will result in enhanced care coordination and seamless sharing of patient information. After all, these are the goals health systems and hospitals are each pursing on their own already.

"As closed systems give way to open systems, we will unlock new value through collaboration," said Mr. Park. "We are beginning to see new open systems that seek to move faster, such as precision medicine, accountable care, bundled payments, retail clinics and more. These point to the need for more innovation and collaboration in healthcare."

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