Money back guarantees are common place in the retail market. Unhappy with your computer purchase, return it. Don’t like the way that new pair of pants fit, exchange it for a new pair. In healthcare, however, it is a foreign concept. That is, until now.
Geisinger Health System in Pennsylvania wants to keep their customers happy. So when patients are upset about a long wait in the emergency department, or a doctor’s curt approach, or a meal that never arrived, Geisinger is doing more than apologizing. It’s offering money back on their care, no questions asked.
David Feinberg, President and CEO of Geisinger and the architect of the new program said, “We want to make sure we not only have the right care that is high quality and safe, but we also want to make sure our care is compassionate, dignified and delivered with a lot of kindness.”
Geisinger is the first in the country to adopt the new approach. Feinberg believes it is the next step in aligning with healthcare’s continuing shift toward value-based care.
Since the pilot program began, Geisinger has received 74 requests for refunds which has resulted in nearly $80,000 in waived charges. Only co-payments and deductibles can be considered for refund. But what the health system has gained in return is worth far more.
The feedback already has boosted patient satisfaction scores, a key metric the federal government uses to pay hospitals. “We have a built-in secret-shopper program, and the patient is telling us when we get it right,” he said. Most feedback has been positive. Refunds represent “families who had to wait in the emergency room for too long, or were treated by a doctor in an abrupt manner, or the nurse got too caught up in what she was doing and forgot to hold someone’s hand,” Feinberg said.
Geisinger is one of the country’s largest health systems, with 10 hospitals serving more than 3 million residents in Pennsylvania and southern New Jersey with more than 500,000 members in a health coverage plan it offers. The refund program is in place only at the Pennsylvania facilities. The short-term losses on refunds are a small sacrifice for the health system to make when they consider the longer-term relationships that can be created with customers with the customer-centric approach.
ProvenExperience, as the program is called, allows patients to get refunds in a variety of ways. The quickest is through a specially designed mobile app — a free one — on which patients can rate their experience and put in for a refund for services that took place. Requests are typically processed in three to five business days.
Geisinger’s employees can also reach out to patients who had a bad experience. Employees can provide customers with free lunch or dinner vouchers, parking passes or gift certificates for the hospital gift shop as a way to make up for the poor service.
Though the ultimate goal is to improve patient experience, the refund gives Geisinger skin in the game. There is motivation to make improvements and continually enhance the customer experience.
Geisinger is already making improvements based on current feedback, starting with a new corporate chef to come up with better menus at each hospital. To address emergency-room backlogs, Feinberg is working on a plan to eliminate all wait times within three years. That may involve new online registration and ER waiting rooms that could be turned into clinical space where doctors would treat non-emergency patients. To improve communication, all employees are getting new training to ensure they always introduce themselves to patients, ask permission before performing procedures and tell patients what is coming next.
As patients pay an ever-greater share of the cost of their care, hospitals need to understand that they are customers who must be treated with dignity and respect. Only time will tell if other health systems and eventually private practices adopt this approach to enhancing the value of the care offered to their customers.