Healthcare IT makes improved customer service an urgent priority

The healthcare industry's seismic shift to a consumer-focused model is giving patients easier access to care and more control over their health information. And IT is at the very heart of that change.

Illustration: First-aid technology cross, by Nate Williams [single-use only]
Nate Williams

Imagine waiting an hour for a table at a restaurant even though you had a reservation. If the food was fabulous, you might return to give the place another chance, but if you were stuck with another long wait on your second visit, there's no way you'd go back.

Imagine the same scenario at your doctor's office. Long wait? You decide you won't be returning, and instead start booking your routine health appointments with your neighborhood convenient care clinic. This, experts say, is the not-so-distant future of healthcare, and it has industry IT leaders scrambling to act more like their counterparts in the hospitality and retail sectors.

"Healthcare traditionally hasn't been known for its customer service, but with so many more choices in healthcare now, customer service is the critical differentiator," says Jim Stalder, CTO at Cook Children's Health Care System in Fort Worth, Texas. "If the new retail healthcare clinic down the street from your traditional primary care office offers Web-based scheduling, SMS appointment reminders and, most importantly, actually sees you when your appointment is scheduled, well, that's some tough competition."

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