The quote, "Out of the Mouths of Babes." signifies that there is naïve honestly in much of what children say. Small children often blurt out unknowingly very truthful information. As champions of healthcare data, we tell the recipients (i.e., patients) of lab services, "What you don't know, will hurt you." But this wise advice for knowledge acquisition, also applies to laboratory services providers. Receipt of information from our customers is as equally important to our survival, as well.
Feedback Is Golden
Naturally, I am not saying that lab customers are child-like; I am only highlighting the fact that candid and honest feedback from customers can be used for quality improvement of services. Furthermore, when their straightforward input is massaged into internal audit activities, the inspection process becomes more unique and meaningful to each specific lab's outcomes.
As a laboratorian, your customers are the most important people you work with. They are the ones who ultimately pay for your services and determine the future success of what you provide. Being the recipients of lab services allows a degree of objectivity to assess our processes and systems from a level that we often cannot gaze into.
Multiple Levels of Customers
The definition for healthcare customer spans across several levels of service recipients including patients, public and private payers, and professional colleagues. The focus of this article is on the importance of obtaining input from colleagues; methods of collection; and how such feedback can assist you in better audit planning.
Currently, there is a large volume of healthcare books and tools on the importance of seeking patient feedback via survey and questionnaires. However, data collection input tools for obtaining lab's partners, namely physicians, nurses, treatment services which utilize laboratory services is scarce.
Your clinical partners should be treated as the critical resource that they are. Just as patients, they hold the informational keys that are all directly responsible for the success of your services. This feedback data is invaluable when it comes to auditing and evaluating the performance levels of what your lab provides.
Be a Process Not an Event
Soliciting customer input is often seen as a special project. Obtaining measurable feedback regarding customer satisfactions is often 'put on the back burner' in exchange for completing day-to-day tasks.
It is sad but true that in many healthcare institutions, feedback gathering is performed as an isolated dreaded activity. Often, solicitations for customer input are performed for the benefit of upcoming inspections from accreditation, certification and/or regulatory inspections.
Seeking customer feedback should be an ongoing process and not an isolated event. Event behavior leads to vast data collection with little or no analysis of findings. During inspections, when event mentality institutions are audited and are asked what did they do with the customer feedback, lengthy explanations are given which was essentially sums up to "Nothing!"
The failure to consistently collect data and perform analysis is much worse than just a lost opportunity; it can be a major step backwards in building audit and inspection plans for corrective measures on an ongoing basis.
Most healthcare institutions neglect to tap into the full span of customers for feedback due to the cumbersome tasks of data collection and analysis. The excuses often put forth are related to time management issues. Generally, it is reported that the large work volumes of physicians and other professionals lead to a decreased desire to complete paper and pencil surveys and questionnaires. In addition, lab managers report that due to multitasking they are too overwhelmed to tally the responses.
A solution to alleviate the above listed problems may be to make use of the Internet and technology. Modern electronics can make soliciting and evaluating customer inputs easier. Today's technology can be extremely helpful simplifying the process of tapping into your colleagues' opinions of your lab's performance levels.
Laboratorians can use electronic questionnaires to meet their data collection goals. Social media and other technologies leverage the power of gathering data. Surveys and polls can be added to your department's website, blog, Facebook page, LinkedIn and Twitter. Using your webcam, you can upload a video to YouTube to present a new process your team is considering. Your colleagues can post response comments to the video's content.
The benefits of soliciting and collecting information electronically versus the traditional paper & paper format are:
- faster response rates
- faster data analysis
- higher input quantities
- reduced administration costs
Today's techno-savvy medical colleagues' talk and they are talking a lot, whether they are communicating via email, iPhone or on social media platforms. Their comments can provide your lab with insight on what's working and what's not working in real-time. And what's more, as the recipient of the feedback, you can participate in the conversation and use the customer input to make smart quality improvement decisions.
Watchers Are Watching You
It goes without saying that every task that you perform is being watched and evaluated, either formally or informally. So, if you are going to conduct questionnaires or surveys, please do something with the data. Your colleagues are watching for changes to take place as a consequence of their feedback.
And when they watch, and watch, and watch, and see no attention being given to their feedback or requested improvement, they question whether your intention is sincere and equate your lab services with your mediocre input/feedback process. They perceive you as a laboratory that simply just goes through the motions for appearances sake.
Asking your colleagues to take time to provide you with feedback and then taking no action based on the findings can be more deleterious to your lab's reputation than not gathering input to being with.
Non-Squeaky Wheels Important Too
All types of data -- the good and the bad -- needs to be collected regularly and proactively. We all know that generally, the squeaky wheel get the oil. So if you only attend to the information from peers who are complaining loudly and often, you will have an unbalanced view of your services. Often time's "non-squeaky wheel" colleagues suffer in silence or just stop using your lab service.
When you have ongoing good and bad feedback from all of your clinical partners, it is easy to give yourself a report card and have a better understanding as to how your lab is performing. This information can be a boost when designing your internal audit program.
Building the entire healthcare teams' voice into the lab's auditing and quality improvement activities is vital. Soliciting feedback from your colleagues will not only provide you with inspection data to improve the processes and systems, but will open and encourage channels of communication, thereby increasing levels of engagement and commitment from your clinical partner customers.
For Additional Reading
- Content Rules: How to Create Killer Blogs, Podcasts, Videos, Ebooks, Webinars (and More) That Engage Customers and Ignite Your Business (New Rules Social Media Series). By Ann Handley and C.C. Chapman.
- Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap.and Others Don't. By Jim Collins.
Eleanor Wolfram is a certified QA&C auditor.