By Joseph Sameh
According to the results of the April 2001 Harris Interactive survey, people are accustomed to using the Internet for customer self-service.
Customers can now track package shipments, pay bills, order books, and do numerous other tasks without the participation of a customer service representative. More than 90 percent of people with Internet access would prefer to communicate with their doctor via email while only 15 percent of doctors would want to do so.
The most significant use of the Internet in the teleservices industry is in the self-management and maintenance of on-call schedules. As a result, many call centers have been reclassified into contact centers.
The threat: A number of organizations are providing email access to doctors. Understanding the threat of this technology is crucial. These new providers will unquestionably grow and this trend has the potential to destroy the medical messaging service industry as we know it.
These companies are well organized and superbly financed; some even have the support of pharmaceutical companies and massive electronic medical records suppliers. One such company, Medem, is endorsed by the American Medical Association. Think back to the introduction of voice mail and remind yourself how that technology changed the commercial telemessaging business. In a similar way, cable TV has hurt the broadcast networks. For those providing medical messaging services, this is an even bigger threat.
The opportunity: Admittedly, these players have the significant advantages of access and money but many don’t fully understand the operational dynamics of the health care call center market, the patients, and the practices. Many companies intend to charge patients to use their service. Why patients would flock to a “pay-for-email” model when they could place a phone call instead is hard to imagine, unless the office hold times are so staggering that any price is worth avoiding the wait. Banks have successfully implemented pay-for-service by providing notoriously poor service to their client base. Now banks charge for everything. In the U.S. we have what many believe is the best health care system in the world, but access can be a challenge. All these players are addressing the aspect of patient access.
Most of these companies rely on the physician as the touch point for the patient. Stated differently, if the patient’s call results in a physician requiring the patient to come in to the office, the doctor ends up asking the patient to call the office to schedule an appointment. The physician becomes the secretary for the secretary. Physicians answering phones at the front desk is not a viable option, yet these companies think doctors will want to answer all email messages.
There are some successful Internet self-service models. Federal Express successfully offered its clients an easy-to-use system. Customers can augment live customer service with Web-based self-service. This process saves millions of dollars annually in reduced labor and the more it is used, the more valuable it becomes. This is known as the “role of network” effect.
Joseph Sameh is the founder of Mediconnect, Phone Screen, and NeedMyDoctor.
See part one, The Trouble with Medical Messaging Service.
[From Connection Magazine – April 2003]