A week ago, my wife Debra broke her hip in a fall. The experience has given me a better appreciation of our health care system. While not perfect, I am impressed with the speed and quality of the care American style. That is, the for profit hospital was interested in her satisfaction as a customer. They were interested in making her happy, so they can be known as a customer centric facility. In today’s social media world customer ratings matter. They touted their ratings on billboards placed in their lobby from several sources such as Healthgrades and US News and World Report. They were aware that she may go to customer rating sites after her discharge and did whatever they could to ensure good feedback.
I frankly expected the typical poor hospital experience based on past interactions with emergency rooms and being admitted for surgery. The last time I was hospitalized was about 20 years ago. That experience was characterized by a diffident nursing staff, a cramped double room with a moaning roommate, and of course lousy food. Move ahead 20 years and everyone at this hospital was interested in ensuring a positive experience.
My underlying point in this is that those who advocate the federalization of healthcare may not like the result. I have had few positive experiences with government agencies. It is not that they are staffed by bad people, it is that they do not make customer service a priority. They do not have to. We have one choice for paying our taxes, getting our passport, getting through airports, and that is Uncle Sam. Sometimes he can be slow, unfriendly, rigid, and lacking in empathy.
In the case of my wife’s emergency surgery I had choices and could accept or reject the hospital and surgeon. Admittedly, once my immobile and in agony wife was brought in, we were kind of a captive audience. Still they knew she could request a move to another hospital and went the extra mile to ensure she stayed. My personal physician did not have privileges there so it was a serious consideration to move.
What I noticed most was the staff always asking if she was satisfied. This was from the ER nurses to the aides taking her meal orders. She felt like a valued customer rather than a burdensome patient. While she was anxious to get home she felt comfortable staying there. The lesson I learned was the enormous opportunities that still exist in healthcare to delight the patient. The hospital staff explained that all the rooms in the new wing were now singles because they knew patients valued their privacy. The visitors have free valet parking. Nice touches.
I know Bernie Sanders thinks government would do a better job running the healthcare system. Somehow I doubt single rooms and valet parking would be part of their plan. I also doubt customer satisfaction would be anywhere as a top priority. Yes, I am confident care would be adequate under a government run system. For my wife the stress of breaking her hip and going through emergency surgery was enough, and adequate care was not what we wanted. We wanted customer centric care and the for profit model provided it.
I thought about how much more we can do to unleash free market customer centric care. We can lower costs and improve care just by letting for profit companies compete. Profit and free choice are powerful motivators for innovation. We should encourage more of it rather than hope government is the solution. Just think the post office versus FedEx as the analogy. I know which I would choose.