Be Well: When the customer is always right — even in health care

No matter what your life’s background might be — professional, technical, service-oriented or otherwise — one thing we all share is the customer experience. We have all had the experience of buying something, whether it is an object, a service or something more subjective, like advice. One thing is for sure: With each experience, we know when we’ve been treated well, and we know when we’ve been treated badly.   

More and more people who have a need for something are taking into account their previous customer experience and relying on it to make purchase decisions. Years ago, the mantra in retail was “the customer is always right.” This has become the new normal in health care as people are now, more than ever before, using their retail shopping skills when making medical choices that, because of health care reform, have multiplied and become more complex.  

A retail-minded approach

For health care providers, a retail-minded approach means that patient access systems need to become more intuitive and customer friendly. Care providers have to meet potential patients on their terms, where they live and work.

The provision of care needs to exceed the patient’s expectations. This is especially important now as care providers are being financially reimbursed based on both their clinical outcomes data and patient experience survey scores.

Akron General is meeting the challenges posed by this dramatic transformation in the national health care landscape. To provide care when and where it is most convenient for the patient, Akron General has developed two major initiatives.

First, it is opening four urgent care centers throughout the region. Urgent care centers provide urgent, not emergent care for minor health concerns and are open evenings and weekends in response to the customer’s desire for convenience and lower costs. Akron General’s first urgent care center opened in Tallmadge in February.

In addition, Akron General has taken this concept of convenience and cost savings even further by acquiring a full-sized mobile unit, the Health & Wellness Express, to service patients’ medical needs in their own neighborhoods. It’s outfitted with clinical treatment bays and will allow clinicians to offer health screenings and other medical services at churches, schools, neighborhood centers and business throughout Northeast Ohio.

Health systems everywhere also are enhancing their patient access touch points by using Internet and mobile portals for physician appointments and medical record access. Akron General offers this service through its website and new features will be coming soon.  

Change is the only constant

Americans are experts in knowing what we want and expecting the best when it comes to the retail experience. People today are applying these shopping skills to their health care experiences. Those who deliver care must adapt.   
How organizations respond to change is the difference between whether they are successful or challenged. Today, that response requires speed in assessing and acting, forward thinking and close attention to the customer, because the customer is always right.

Dr. Thomas “Tim” L. Stover, MBA, is president and CEO of Akron General Health System, which is a health system trying to keep people out of the hospital. Reach him at [email protected]. More is available at

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