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What ever happened to service?

What ever happened to service?

Many of us ask what became of service while we wait in a long line or listen to song after song on telephone hold. Our society seems to stress products, not intangibles like looking after customer needs.

Gas stations are a good example. In the past, a visit to what was then known as a "service station" included an oil and tire pressure check and a windshield cleaning. Today, not only have these services ceased but you are also expected to pump your own gas!

Although we have not yet descended to self-service health care, our profession could stand some improvement. We should try harder to ease health care encounters for the customer, who does not look forward to using our services in the first place.

Many hospitals today employ state-of-the-art technology but still have problems providing such mundane things as adequate patient scheduling and clear, concise billing. Patients usually cannot appreciate the quality of a laboratory result. What they can relate to is the efficiency of our phlebotomist, the clerical staff's attitude, and promptness in answering billing questions.

If the office area is clean and well organized, the customer will assume that lab work is of the same quality. Conversely, if the bill for testing is incorrect, maybe the lab result is also wrong.

When preparing their operating and capital budgets, many laboratory managers tend to emphasize the latest technological developments and consider service aspects as an afterthought. I think the two are equally important. The latest super-duper analyzer does your laboratory no good if specimens are inefficiently collected or stuck in a bottleneck somewhere.

Effective laboratory operation consists of a systematic chain from specimen collection to result reporting. One weak link can destroy the entire process. My laboratory's capital budget, for example, contains more funding for service-related items such as computers, pneumatic tube systems, and renovations than for technical equipment. The personnel budget also reflects a commitment to service.

Service activities need not suffer if your laboratory lacks capital. Unlike a buildup in technical operations, the lab's capacity for service can expand without an increase in operating expense. It costs nothing extra, for example, to have lab employees courteously and efficiently answer the telephone. Or to keep trying to contact a physician to report critical results. These are simple yet effective ways to insure good client relations.

While the message seems obvious, many employees must be reminded of the importance of maintaining a high level of service. Perhaps you should dedicate an in-service program to improving client services. In addition, various "canned" training programs teach employees how to answer a telephone properly and deal with irate clients diplomatically.

Don't confine quality control to technical procedures--monitor your laboratory services as well, to evaluate their effectiveness. For example, how user-friendly is your laboratory report form? How efficiently are Stat results called back? How many complaints do you receive from patients?

Surveys are an excellent way to determine the level of laboratory service. You should ask physicians how they rate such items as turnaround time and the quality of results. Patients can tell you how long they were kept waiting, how courteous lab employees were, and so on.

Laboratory size should not determine the level of service that is provided. I have seen large laboratories handle all customers efficiently, and conversely, some small laboratories in which service fell through the cracks. Nor should you fall back on the old excuse of computer foul-up. Computers are run by people, and you should make sure back-up procedures can maintain lab services if the system fails.

We must keep in mind that we are a major component of health care, which is a service industry. Unlike other professions, we cannot afford to see service levels deteriorate because that will make an already unpleasant situation for many customers even more unpleasant.
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Copyright 1988 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
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Author:Maratea, James M.
Publication:Medical Laboratory Observer
Article Type:column
Date:Mar 1, 1988
Words:641
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