When is the last time you had an experience as a consumer worse than trying to schedule an appointment at your doctor's office? You can only secure an appointment by phone. During business hours. And generally have to endure a convoluted IVR system and a long "call hold" times before speaking with anyone. Then after another 5-10 minutes, you will be lucky to find a mutually agreeable time. Can you imagine consumers putting up with a process like this in any other industry? And it doesn't get any better when a patient arrives. They generally have to fill out paperwork that they could have filled out prior to the visit. At least it keeps them busy while they are waiting an average of 35 minutes for their appointment. Finally, there is the hassle in understanding and paying their bill. Few, if any, other industries make it so difficult for customers to pay for their services they use. A few weeks after the visit, they will likely get a convoluted paper statement in the mail that is filled with codes and jargon and just generally difficult to understand. Although many consumers pay all of their bills online today, there are few options to do so in healthcare today. So the consumer will have to find their checkbook, find a stamp and mail in a check. Or maybe they will set it aside for the next time they happen to have their checkbook out.
Consumers have been trained by other industries to expect transparency, convenience and speed. They want to be able to go online when it is convenient for them to book appointments, fill out forms access a bill and make a payment. They don't want to fill out redundant paperwork, find time to call the office during work hours and have to send in paper checks on statements they can't understand. As the industry transitions to consumers purchasing their own coverage out-of-pocket and directly from insurance carriers, they are going to demand the same sort of service levels and convenience from their physicians that they do from every other service provider. The carriers are beginning to understand this. The CEO of Aetna healthcare, spent most of his presentation at a recent investor conference describing a changing industry restructured by consumer empowerment. Online patient portals for consumers to securely access their medical records and patient statements with the ability to manage their balances, schedule and make payments are becoming more commonplace. With Healthcare Reform giving millions of Americans the tools to ‘shop online' for healthcare providers, physicians needs to be providing the best possible healthcare to their clients and also offer ‘customer service’ features that will attract and keep more patients and differentiate them from their competition.