I dare suggest that quite often they are unavoidable. Do what you may, there will always be someone who will slip once in a while and you will have an irate customer. The headcount in a typical 300 bed tertiary care hospital in India can easily be 800 people or more. In spite of all the care in hiring the right set of people and putting them through rigorous training, they will still end up making mistakes.
Good hospitals, while trying to minimise errors also learn to accept them as inevitable and put in place systems, that help them handle difficult situations well. Great hospitals go one step further, they not only do excellent service recovery, they also ensure that the the patients leave the hospital with a positive frame of mind, in spite of the mishap.
F&B and Billing are two areas in a hospital, where service failures are most common. The food would not arrive on time, would either be too cold or too hot, or too spicy or just unpalatable. Similarly the bill will take ages to get ready, it will have items billed, which in the patient’s estimation were never used, there will be charges for doctor’s visits, who never showed up or just came and said hello, while the hospital levied a big charge. All this and more are common in the hospitals. Too many such episodes, with a patient will lead to a bad experience and even if the medical outcome is fine the patient will (in all likelihood) have bad things to say about the hospital.
It is essential that the hospital actively seek patients’ views on its services. While, a feedback form is usually available at the time of the discharge, it is of no use in service recovery.(The patient is afterall ready to leave the hospital).
Max Healthcare, thus employed a novel system called ‘The Mentor Program’ to collect patient feedback through designated executives called ‘Mentors’, while the patients were admitted in the hospital. The mentors meet the patients and their attendants on a daily basis and listen to their grievances and experiences in the hospital. They than pass on the feedback to the concerned departments (say F&B), which than takes care that the error was not repeated. The mentors check with the patients again the next day if all was fine and usually have a happy patient at hand.
I myself experienced the Mentor system at work, when my mother underwent a bypass surgery last year. She had complications and we spent a harrowing 3 weeks in the hospital. However, the mentor made our life easier by taking care of the smallest need that we had (even allowing us to break hospital rules at times). We got an impression that the hospital was willing to listen to us, really cared about us and was a partner in a difficult period in our lives.
And look here I am talking about the our experience in the hospital rather than the infection, which my mother contracted after surgery leading to complications. I understand this can happen in any hospital across the world, the infection rate at Max compares favourably with other hospitals and we were just plain unlucky.
This is the power of a good experience and word of mouth marketing. A good customer experience and a positive word of mouth is never a product of an accident. It is only through a great understanding of consumer behaviour in a hospital, detailed planning and diligent effort, that magic happens.