The critical role of customer operations in healthcare: What leading organizations do to deliver best-in-class patient experience

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Leading healthcare organizations are working to bring together service, back office and operations to adapt to changing patient needs and business conditions.

To achieve this, these organizations are deploying a best-in-class customer operations program designed to reduce costs, grow revenue, increase productivity and improve patient satisfaction.

During a September webinar hosted by Becker's Hospital Review and sponsored by ServiceNow, Drew Koerner, healthcare CTO at ServiceNow, and Omer Minkara, vice president and principal analyst at Aberdeen, discussed steps to improve customer operations.

Five takeaways:

1. Healthcare organizations increasingly view patients as customers. A byproduct of the consumerization of healthcare is viewing the patient as a customer. Customer operations is "a healthcare organization synchronizing activities in the service part of the business (customer service) and the back office, including scheduling appointments, managing medical records and ensuring insurance coverage," Mr. Minkara explained.

2. Healthcare organizations often have silos, with differing goals. It is common in healthcare organizations to have silos and to lack shared objectives across the service and back-office stakeholders. Silos produce poor communication and breed inefficiency, and different stakeholders perceive themselves as having different "customers." One result is that back-office roles frequently incur the costs of supporting patient-forward activities, as "the back office is really delivering critical support for them," Mr. Minkara said. "A lot of the costs associated with service are shouldered by the back office," he continued, which can impress upon leadership the need for greater shared objectives.

3. Many of the challenges organizations face can be addressed through improved customer operations. Improved customer operations require shared goals and objectives — such as improving the patient experience — and greater collaboration, improved communication and optimized workflows that tie everything together.

"Optimizations on the patient services side can happen with those back-office folks [through workflows]," Mr. Koerner said. Workflows bridge departments, enabling collaboration across silos. With workflows, the organization can "automate some of those processes" to close gaps and deliver better, faster service.

4. Healthcare organizations with best-in-class customer operations achieve greater patient satisfaction and improved operating margins. Best-in-class organizations have greater patient retention and higher patient satisfaction. They experience improved productivity and higher first-touch resolution of customer problems. These top-performing organizations are also stemming cost increases. Operational efficiency, improved patient trust, cost reduction and revenue growth combine to produce improved margins.

These organizations are also doing a better job of delivering on consumer expectations, which have been influenced by ecommerce companies. "They [best-in-class performers] minimize the patient effort and address patient needs, while delivering more cost-effective and profitable care," Mr. Minkara said.

5. Several customer operations' actions are important when delivering the best patient experience. The presenters identified the following pillars as foundational to delivering the best patient experience and reducing costs.

    • Regular audits to identify problem points and process inefficiencies.
    • Quality assurance to understand how well the organization is meeting regulatory standards.
    • Flexible, streamlined workflows to manage and execute as business conditions change.
    • Real-time management of activities to dynamically address patient expectations and local conditions. Leveraging workflow automation can help with real-time management.
    • Digital transformation that utilizes digital services to collect and use data to improve the experience and automate portions of customer operations.

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