When we discuss all the changes that laboratories have to deal with—from technical and regulatory to evolving views of healthcare delivery and service expectations—we must include how these affect customer service. Customer service is involved in every phase of the laboratory operation; it is the face of the laboratory and, thus, reflects everything that is happening.
Specifically, what are some of the new demands on customer service brought about by these changes?
- Direct access by patients to their complete medical records, including test results.
- Requests for interpretation of test results.
- Testing requests directly from the patient, without their physician orders.
- Increased interaction by patients with the laboratory through patient portals available on their computer and mobile devices. These have almost an unlimited capacity to replace in-person visits to access test information, receive information about prescribed medication and complete required signature forms ranging from insurance documents to consent agreements, as well as make future appointments for office visits, submit questions and provide comments.
- Increased need for additional communication skills since customer service personnel are now expected to provide a wider variety of information. This includes cultural sensitivity as well as additional language options to match the client population.
- Knowledge of HIPAA and other legal guidelines to be followed when imparting information.
- An awareness that social media provides a forum for both positive and negative reviews of the services provided.
Things to Consider
It is important to understand the significance of the impact of the 2014 HHS rule change, which amended both CLIA’88 and HIPAA to allow direct patient access to their test results. Laboratories must have the proper policies in place permitting this. Anecdotally, I have heard that there are still some laboratories that are still unaware of this rule change, have not adjusted their policies and still require physician permission to release test results.
It is important to note that laboratories have flexibility as to how to set up systems to receive, process and respond to access results. While laboratories are required to provide access to completed test reports, they are not required to interpret these reports.
The use of digital patient portals to access information, as well as provide input ranging from questions and comments to insurance information, has created the need for customer service staffing to include someone who can assist patients with these portals.
Social media has become an important tool for popular expression of satisfaction or dissatisfaction with specific physicians, hospitals and all other healthcare services, including laboratories. Thus, the benefits of quality customer service are multiplied in today’s environment, but the price of poor customer service is multiplied as well.