Another RSNA meeting has come and gone. I started attending the country’s largest medical meeting in 2006, and while I’ve become much better at pacing myself and navigating McCormick Place in Chicago, Illinois, over the years, I’ve never lost the sense of awe that I feel in sessions and in the exhibit hall. Ours is a remarkable field populated by astonishingly smart individuals, and when those individuals put their heads together to solve problems, the results are thrilling.
As I mentioned in our Stat Read blog, I couldn’t help but notice a tonal shift at this year’s RSNA meeting. Informatics grows in importance to the field with every passing year, but this year, vendors were showcasing service-based innovations alongside the usual radiologist-focused tools. That change was matched by much of what I heard in the sessions that I attended, in which speakers emphasized workflow not as a function of the radiology department or practice alone, but as an issue to be resolved across the entire care continuum—and in which image sharing was spoken of not just as an interfacility challenge, but as a capability that can and should be extended to patients and their personal health records.
In one such session, my ears pricked up when I heard the phrase Ritz-Carlton service model. In years past, the Disney model has often been mentioned, but the Ritz-Carlton, by adults and for adults, seems a more fitting analogy for health care. On November 29, in “Creating a Professional Culture in Your Department,” copresenter Stephen Chan, MD, noted that the Ritz-Carlton model emphasizes not only customers’ expressed needs, but their unexpressed needs as well. It’s all about anticipation.
As the competition in radiology grows fiercer and fiercer, service will be a key differentiator, as it is in every other industry (if you haven’t yet, read this Los Angeles Times article about the national scale on which providers are now competing for health-care dollars). Of course, it’s very easy to pay lip service to this concept. What’s more challenging is encoding a service ethic into organizational culture in a way that is significant, concrete, and enduring.
The Ritz-Carlton is regularly cited as the premier service organization on the planet, and it takes very specific steps to institutionalize what many would consider a soft concept. For instance, it allows each of its employees to spend up to $2,000 per day, per customer, resolving any complaint, however minor. In interviews with the Ritz-Carlton’s management, it is often mentioned that this money is rarely spent. Its real purpose is symbolic: It formalizes the trust and empowerment given to employees to maintain the highest standards of customer satisfaction.
In practices nationwide, there are examples of service initiatives of this nature—one practice that we wrote about recently has pledged to provide exact prices to its patients, for instance—but at the moment, they are too few and far between. The most important lesson to take from the Ritz-Carlton model is that once service is defined as part of your core mission, that goal must be backed by real policies that are enforced throughout your practice, department, or center.
Although truly great customer service is marked by its flexibility and creativity, it cannot exist without fierce, culture-building organizational support. Build real tenets for enhancing service to patients and referrers into your organization now, and you will sleep just a little bit better in the turbulent years to come.
Cat Vasko is editor of ImagingBiz.com and associate editor of Radiology Business Journal.