Blog Home

6 ways to improve customer service in healthcare

Alia Paavola
minute read
Table of contents:

Customer service in healthcare refers to the support you offer patients throughout their care journeys. Good customer service spans the interactions before, during, and after patients receive care. When done right, it gives patients an easy and positive experience with your healthcare facility.

However, healthcare is a complex customer service industry. Implementing customer service into healthcare can be difficult because admitting and discharging patients is becoming automated. Your medical facility is judged by care quality and how patients feel about their entire experience. That’s why a focus on customer service in healthcare is essential.

In this article, we discuss the must-knows about customer service in healthcare and how to improve it.

Jump right to:

<h2 id="Importance">The importance of customer service in healthcare</h2>

Providing exemplary care is no longer enough for patients to remain loyal and engaged.  Here are a few reasons why providers should prioritize customer service.

  • It helps build loyalty. Most healthcare organizations want to develop long-term relationships with patients instead of approaching appointments as one-offs. Customers who feel supported and openly communicate with providers throughout their care journey will likely be loyal. They will take their business elsewhere if they experience poor customer service.

  • It impacts the bottom line. A patient’s overall experience directly impacts a provider’s bottom line. In fact, healthcare facilities that provide exceptional patient experiences achieve 50 percent higher margins than those with average experiences.

Stat graphic showing patient experience can result in 50% higher margins.

  • It can improve patient acquisition. Patients are treating healthcare like any other paid service. Providers need an excellent online reputation to help get more patients in the door. That’s because patients want to read reviews. 

    In fact, a study found that 70 percent of patients check online reviews before choosing a new provider. Patients rate their experience by the care offered and customer service factors. These include ease of appointment scheduling, communication with their provider, and appointment wait times.

Stat graphic showing 70% of patients check online provider reviews.

<h2 id="Challenges">Common challenges of providing good customer service in medical settings</h2>

While many healthcare facilities recognize its importance, delivering excellent customer service can be challenging. Let's look at some key issues:

  • Healthcare is complex. Healthcare is complex and often difficult for patients to navigate. Patients frequently have many questions about their insurance plans, diagnoses, bills, and how to find in-network providers.

  • Healthcare has many stakeholders. The healthcare industry has many key players, including doctors, nurses, X-ray techs, insurers, device makers, and drugmakers. In any given patient encounter, there are several stakeholders involved. It’s often difficult to ensure solid customer experiences across all aspects of the healthcare ecosystem. 

  • Complex medical information is difficult to explain. It can be challenging to convey a patient’s diagnosis and care plan in a way they understand. However, answering questions clearly is critical to excellent customer service.

  • Long wait times. Patients say one of the most frustrating aspects of healthcare is getting access to a new doctor. The average wait to see a new doctor is 26 days and only getting longer. In addition to access to care wait times, simply sitting in a waiting room can cost providers. In fact, 30 percent of patients have left an appointment due to a long wait.

  • Appointment scheduling difficulties. In today’s world, customers are used to ease and convenience. Booking a flight or hotel online in just a few clicks is easy, whereas medical appointment scheduling isn’t. Though online booking has emerged with patient portals, it’s not always the same seamless experience.

  • Non-transparent pricing. Another factor with patient experience relates to the billing process. While efforts are underway to increase price transparency in healthcare, the reality is that billing is complex. Patients’ bills depend on insurance policies, hospital-insurer contracts, and proper medical documentation. As a result, it’s not always easy to provide upfront estimates.

  • Fragmented care. For many patients in the U.S., care isn’t coordinated. Patients often see providers in different facilities instead of just one for most visits. As a result, ensuring customer service remains constant across every interaction can be challenging.

  • Staff buy-in. A top challenge is getting buy-in to customer service best practices from every staff member. In any given patient encounter, there are many different staff interactions. It’s essential to get every staff member on board so they can provide an optimal patient experience. 

<h2 id="Aspects">What are the most important aspects of customer service in healthcare?</h2>

Let’s examine some of the most critical aspects of delivering excellent customer service in healthcare. These pillars of customer service increase the likelihood that patients will be satisfied with their experience and recommend your practice to others. 

Communication for healthcare professionals

Effective communication is the cornerstone of a favorable healthcare encounter. It helps patients feel heard and ensures they understand their diagnoses and care plan. Good communication can positively impact the patient-provider relationship and enhance the experience. Here are some of the most important pillars of communication for healthcare providers:

  • Patient-centered communication. Every patient is unique. Get to know their personality, medical history, and life story to help tailor communication appropriately.

  • Active listening. The importance of active listening can’t be understated. Active listening helps providers understand patient concerns and build trust with them.

  • Clear information delivery. Providers need to break down complex medical information in a way that makes sense to patients.

  • Timely responses. When patients reach out with questions online, be sure to respond quickly. While it’s not always possible to respond to patient questions immediately, replies should be timely. Don’t let patients sit with unanswered questions for days.

Empathy and understanding in patient interactions

Empathy in healthcare is understanding your patients’ feelings. Empathy helps patients feel heard by their providers. Studies show empathy improves patient experience, treatment compliance, and clinical outcomes. Focus on the following to increase empathy:

  • Patient-centered care. Every patient will have unique concerns, care goals, and preferences. Tailor treatment plans and communication to each individual’s needs.

  • Handle emotional situations. Understand how to be empathetic in emotionally charged cases. You should listen, ask questions to understand, and respond calmly to patients.

Timely and efficient service delivery

Another critical factor of customer service in healthcare is the timely delivery of care. Let’s look at some ways to ensure more efficient service delivery.

  • Reduce in-person wait times. Patients don’t want to sit in the waiting room long. Studies suggest that as appointment wait times go up, satisfaction decreases. There are several ways to cut in-person wait times. These include using digital check-in, gathering patient data before the appointment, automating insurance verification, and offering online payment options.

  • Offer a waitlist. Give patients the option to join a waitlist to be seen sooner. This can help healthcare facilities fill last-minute cancellations and reduce the average time to see a physician.
  • Streamline processes. Inefficient workflows can lead to longer wait times. Look into your patient scheduling and check-in processes to ensure optimized processes.

  • Appointment management. Effective appointment management is a critical aspect of timely care delivery. Tap into best practices like sending appointment reminders and offering an easier way for patients to reschedule. You should also highlight your cancellation, late arrival, and rescheduling policies. Pro tip: Texts are a great tool for week-of and same-day appointment reminders as they’re read quickly.
Stat graphic showing texts are read within 3 minutes

Respect for patient privacy, preferences, and dignity

To generate trust, one of the top factors of patient loyalty, healthcare professionals must respect patient privacy, preferences, and dignity. Patient privacy comprises respecting personal space, data, choices, and family relationships. Here’s more information about each one:

  • Data privacy and confidentiality. HIPAA exists for a reason. Protecting patients’ data to maintain privacy and confidentiality will help establish trust.

  • Decisional privacy. Patients must have autonomy. They have the right to make decisions about their care. You should provide medical guidance but ultimately understand that the patient gets to decide. This includes being respectful of differing beliefs, cultures, and practices.

  • Associational privacy. You must respect patients' desires regarding their relationships with family members and spouses. Understand what information they are okay with you sharing in front of others.

  • Physical privacy. Another critical aspect is upholding a patient’s right to personal space. This includes asking permission to conduct a particular procedure.

  • Maintain patient dignity. In addition to these privacy needs, you want to maintain a patient’s dignity. Involve them in care decisions, help them with proper hygiene, engage in conversation, and respect their personal space. 

<h2 id="Ways">6 ways to improve customer service in healthcare</h2>

Outside of improving staff interactions, many of the top ways to improve customer service in healthcare involve digitizing and automating workflows. This will make the experience easier and more efficient for patients and staff. Let’s look at some ways to improve customer service in healthcare.

1. Implement an EHR

Most healthcare organizations use electronic health records to document care delivery, medical history, and patient notes. If your organization doesn’t yet have one, it’s highly recommended. EHRs have improved care coordination, convenience, and patient outcomes.

This accessible database gets providers the right information about a patient without extra effort. For example, the patient won’t need to repeatedly fill out their medical history; instead, it will be there for the provider to access. This can help improve the overall experience for patients.

2. Utilize a patient portal

You want patients to have secure digital access to their medical records. Building a patient portal is the easiest way to ensure this 24/7 access. These portals allow patients to be more informed and involved in their care. 

For example, patients can view test results in greater detail, request prescription refills, pay bills, chat with their healthcare provider, and get reminders about preventive health screenings. Healthcare organizations can build patient portals from scratch or partner with vendors to build one. No matter which you choose, keep these factors in mind:

  • Make sure it’s easy to navigate
  • Keep it simple and user-friendly
  • Ensure security and privacy
  • Check that it has the features you want (appointment scheduling, billing, support chat, etc.)
  • Be mindful that it integrates with the right tools

According to 196 health IT leaders, the top-rated patient portals are:

  • MyChart (Epic)
  • AthenaCommunicator (Athenahealth)
  • Greenway Patient Portal (Greenway Health)
  • FollowMyHealth (Veradigm)
  • Medfusion Patient Portal (NextGen Healthcare)

These portals are top-rated because they integrate with an EMR, are customizable for each health system, simplify patient tasks, and have features to increase patient engagement.

Pros: Messages are safe and contained in one central location.
Cons: Patients must have a separate login and they may miss your messages.

3. Get proper communication channels

Effective communication is the foundation of good customer service. Therefore, finding the right communication tools for your medical practice is essential. Communication tools help medical providers get the right information to patients, improve billing and collections, stay connected post-discharge, schedule appointments, and more. 

There are several communication options available. Let’s dive into the different options and some pros and cons.

Graphic showing 98% of texts are opened.

  • Phone. Phone calls will always be a great way to converse with patients. It’s often easier to explain complex medical information to patients over the phone than in a text-only message. Phone calls can help patients ask questions to understand their bills, insurance payments, benefits, and more.

    Pros: Calls can help you resolve more complex issues and share more complicated information.
    Cons: Not all people want to talk on the phone, calls take longer, and many don’t answer calls from unknown numbers.

  • Emails. Healthcare providers can send patients information via email. Often, providers use emails to alert patients to bills and upcoming appointments or share practice updates in a newsletter. Emails can help ensure patients stay informed and get critical information.

    Pros: Emails can be encrypted and you can send many emails at once.
    Cons: Emails aren’t as well-read as other methods of communication.

  • Blogs. Blogs can enhance patient education. Providers write blogs to inform patients about different procedures, medical conditions, and treatment options. Blogs help improve patient experience by breaking down complex medical information for patients to understand easily.

There’s no right or wrong answer when selecting communication tools for your medical facility. Many providers find success using a mixture of communication tools. Ask your patients how they prefer to connect with you and get updates. This can help you inform your selection.

4. Choose interoperable software and tools

There’s nothing more frustrating than tools that don’t work together. That’s why there’s been a significant focus on interoperable software in the healthcare industry. When selecting software for communication and other practice needs, make sure there’s a way that the two disparate tools can exchange data and integrate.

For example, if you choose texting software, ensure it can integrate with your EHR through an SMS API or a pre-built integration.

5. Gather patient feedback

The best way to understand how to improve customer service in healthcare is by asking patients for their honest opinions. Gaining this feedback can help you pinpoint areas of frustration and resolve them.

Customer satisfaction surveys, net promoter score surveys, and custom surveys are different ways to collect and measure patient feedback.

For example, you could ask patients a CSAT question to gauge their satisfaction with their health service or encounter.

CSAT graphic for healthcare customer service.

One of the best ways to gather customer feedback quickly is by texting. Customers are more likely to respond to an SMS survey than an email one. Plus, it’s easier to ask a follow-up question in a text. Let’s look at the following example:

Text message survey example

6. Hire the right people and properly train them

Much of the patient’s perceived experience depends on their interactions with your staff. Therefore, hiring the right people and training them on customer service best practices is vital. 

When hiring for healthcare jobs, from front office staff to nurses, look for some of the customer service soft skills. Some of the skills to look for include:

  • Effective communication
  • Active listening
  • Empathy
  • Patience
  • Sense of humor
  • Positive attitude
  • Conflict resolution
  • Emotional intelligence
  • Adaptability
  • Decision-making

In addition, make sure to train and onboard your staff correctly. For example, you should: 

  • Inform them of your organization’s policies and customer service standards
  • Evaluate how they interact with patients
  • Ensure they know how to use your technology tools
  • Establish clear goals and objectives related to improving customer service

<h2 id="Examples">Outstanding customer service in healthcare examples</h2>

Let’s examine several examples of healthcare organizations stepping up their customer service efforts to delight patients.

Dntl Bar revolutionizes communication with texting

Dntl Bar improved its communication with patients via text messaging. The dental provider connected Textline to its EMR via an API. This allowed the Dntl Bar team to save time while communicating with patients. The dental practice uses SMS for appointment confirmations, rescheduling, and follow-up care. 

Text messaging has become Dntl Bar’s top communication method with patients due to its speed, ease, and convenience. Texting is also easier than phone calls.

Ariana Silvestro, head of strategy and marketing at Dntl Bar, told Textline that SMS has helped the organization  “raise the bar in this space when it comes to customer service and customer experience.”

Dntl Bar uses Textline to communicate with patients.

Northwell Health implementing patient feedback

Northwell Health, New York’s largest healthcare provider, took patient feedback seriously. A survey the health system sent to patients post-discharge uncovered that patients rated the hospital food so poorly that it impacted the overall patient experience. To combat this, the health system hired a Michelin Star chef to revamp the food menu and change how patients viewed their experience.

While your health system may not have the resources to hire a chef to revamp your menu, this highlights how collecting feedback can uncover pain points and ideas to improve.

Northwell Health implements patient feedback to improve experience.

Textline: HIPAA-compliant texting for healthcare customer service

There’s a reason healthcare texting is growing in popularity: it’s effective. SMS is versatile, quick, and preferred by patients. It helps providers improve customer service by enabling them to communicate better and faster.

If you’re looking for a HIPAA-compliant SMS provider, look no further than Textline. Textline is the most secure business texting platform on the market and is built to help healthcare teams thrive. Textline was the first fully HIPAA-compliant texting software, earning a patent for our HIPAA messaging consent feature.

Join the thousands of healthcare providers who trust Textline to connect with their patients. Providers use our texting software to schedule appointment reminders, send payment alerts, automate SMS workflows, send two-way texts to patients, and more.

Do you want to see Textline’s HIPAA-compliant platform in action? Request a demo now from our expert team.

Start texting now

Sign up for a free 14-day trial today
Get Started
No credit card required

Earn commission for referrals

Get paid for each customer you bring to Textline.