The Evolution of Customer Service / by David Driscoll

In all the professional roles I’ve played throughout my eclectic career, I can say with certainty that customer service was the most challenging; especially when the customer knows more than you do, as is becoming more and more the norm.

Before the internet, we turned to customer service representatives for professional expertise, relying on their guidance when in need of assistance. Today, however, customers come in armed with mountains of data, consumer reviews, and various other tidbits of information that they’ve spent hours, if not days, poring over in anticipation of their transaction. As someone who worked retail customer service from 2007 to 2018, I’ve seen the evolution firsthand. Content experts are less relevant than ever. Strong interpersonal skills are far more valuable.

Customer service today is less about advising and more about helping people along to where they’ve already decided to go. However, as my colleague Nasha pointed out in her blog from Tuesday, a number of hospitals haven’t yet received that memo. Records departments still think they can dictate the release of information to patients, despite that more patients every day know their HIPAA rights.

When following regulatory HIPAA guidelines to rightfully request health information on behalf of her daughter and others, Nasha has found that she often has to educate the record departments on the legal requirements. That’s after the six or seven phone calls needed just to get any kind of straight answer. As she stated, “It’s not only a lack of (HIPAA) compliance, it’s a bad customer experience.”

I can tell you from my experience: the only thing more demoralizing than dealing with an angry customer over the phone is dealing with that angry customer when you’re completely in the wrong. Not only do you feel anxious and under attack, you begin to feel animosity towards your employer for putting you in that awful situation to begin with. Now imagine that the customers are actually sick patients in dire need of their health data, and you can imagine how much worse it feels.

Simply put, hospitals and health institutions need to make sure their records department personnel are not in the terrible position of knowing less about HIPAA than the patients they’re supposed to be helping. As more citizens learn about their HIPAA right of access and begin to exercise this right—in all of its glorious (but sometimes confusing) details—it’s going to be a nightmare for any records department professional caught in the path of resistance. It’s time to make HIPAA right of access compliance a priority—both for the patients’ sake and the mental health of the medical records professionals.

-David Driscoll