Customer Service in EMS

How many times have you been shopping for something and couldn’t find it?  Worse yet, how many times have you not been able to find anyone who wanted to help you?  Do you find standing at the counter of a hotel waiting to check in frustrating because the second on duty person is “on a break” only to find out that she is sitting just out of sight and could really care less that you have just gotten in after a long and tiring drive?

Now, how about the elderly lady who calls for your service at four o’clock in the morning because she “just doesn’t feel well.”  How do you treat her?  How should you treat her?  I have always tried to operate off the rule ‘do unto others….’.  However, just being kind to the little old lady who calls you at four o’clock in the morning isn’t enough any more.  Especially in the increasingly competitive healthcare market.  More and more EMS providers are finding themselves in direct competition for their slice of the market-share.  What is your service doing to ensure its place in your community?  People are rarely glad they have to call an ambulance, but if they do find themselves needing emergency medical services, are they glad it is your service pulling into their driveway?

Until recently, many EMS providers thought “we got out the door immediately, treated the patient aggressively yet compassionately, and we got them to the hospital quickly.  A job well done.”  Today, that scenario is a “job half done.”  As EMS managers, we have to recognize the importance of our customers as well as our consumers, and take measures to ensure both groups understand that we want them to call our service when they have an emergency.  But more importantly, we have to give them reasons to specifically request our service when the need arises.

Does your ambulance service ask for feedback from your customers?  I was sitting in a restaurant recently and noticed wedged between the dessert menu holder and the salt and pepper shakers a customer questionnaire.  As I usually do, I read over it and took the time to complete the survey.  In the service that I managed, we conducted patient follow-up surveys on all emergency calls, but we took it a step further.  We (our employee quality improvement committee and myself) wanted to use this follow up tool as more than a “public relations tool”.  We developed four questionnaires to be mailed out for specific types of emergencies for which our service was dispatched (chest pain, fall/injury, respiratory, and general illness).  After the call was over, our crews, as part of the charting and paperwork routine, placed the complaint-appropriate questionnaire in an envelope and sent it to the patient’s mailing address along with a self-addressed, postage paid envelope for the return.  The response our service received was overwhelmingly positive, however we also identified some areas for improvement and were able to make operational and clinical protocol changes based on direct feedback from our customers.  We were not only receiving vital information from our customers on our operation, we were reaching out to our customers and letting them know how much we appreciated the opportunity to serve them.

Another quick and easy customer appreciation tool that we utilized was the ‘patient visit.’  For each patient that we transported to our local hospital who was admitted, our crews stopped by to visit them the next day.  Often times the same crew was working and was able to conduct a visit to a patient whom they had treated the previous day.

Customer Satisfaction vs. Customer Delight

When you pay for an expensive meal, do you want to just be satisfied, or would you rather be delighted with the food and service that you receive?  Delight, as defined by Webster, describes something that affords great pleasure.  Granted, not very many people would say they were experiencing great pleasure if they were in need of emergency medical attention, but what is your service doing to change that?  I recently encountered two paramedics who work for the service that I used to be the director for.  They were attending to a man at a local Wal-Mart who was apparently having chest pain.  As my wife and I were going through the check out line, I noticed that the two paramedics were assisting the elderly gentleman, who had apparently refused treatment or transport, through the checkout line.  I later noticed them helping him out to his car with his purchases.  Is that something that is expected of EMS providers?  Unfortunately, I would say it is not.

To say that your service is striving for improved customer satisfaction is a noble thing, however I believe you will fall short of the mark and your service’s potential if you don’t aim for complete customer delight.

What else does your service do to solidify it’s standing in your community?

Those are job or duty-related customer service initiatives, but does your community see you doing things other than running ambulances?  Other ideas that my service did to build support from our community included:

Free CPR Training, complete with refreshments, entertainment, and media coverage.  This was done in conjunction with the city police department in an effort to kick off a joint venture AED project.  Business leaders as well as the public were encouraged to participate in order to “strengthen their link in the chain of survival in our town.”

Child safety seat checkpoints.  In cooperation with the local barracks of the Pennsylvania State Police, vehicles with child safety seats were asked to stop at our ambulance station for a free inspection of how their seat was installed.  This gave us an opportunity to “show off” our station, as well as provide a very needed service to our community’s younger population.

Home Safety Inspections – in cooperation with area agencies on aging, as well as your local hospital’s newborn nursery, home safety inspections can give your service an opportunity to find things that could pose a hazard to an elderly person living alone (trip hazards, loose stair railing, dimly lighted stair wells, deteriorating outdoor steps or railings), or to a newborn or toddler (unguarded electrical outlets, open stairways, or sharp objects close to the ground).  Often times, local home improvement stores will join your efforts and donate supplies in order to repair these hazards.  This is a fantastic opportunity for EMS systems everywhere.

Bicycle Safety Days – this is a huge hit with elementary school-aged children.  My service had a “Bike Medic” team that was utilized for large events where bicycles could access a patient much quicker than an ambulance could.  This team also conducted numerous bicycle safety days at local elementary schools.  This also was usually done in conjunction with our local police department, and included helmet awareness talks, prizes, obstacle course races, and tours of our ambulances.

About Philip Hayes

Phil is currently an active career Captain with the City of Stamford Fire & Rescue Department. He spent more than 20 years with Stamfords' Rescue 1 and has experience as a former Paramedic, EMS Instructor, Rescue Diver and Fire Officer. Before moving to Connecticut to join the Stamford Fire & Rescue Department, he spent many several years as a paramedic in Southern Westchester County, NY. Phil is also experienced with graphic design, multimedia development, digital video and audio. Phil brings both vision and implementation experiences of internet technology solutions and is critical in developing the web-strategy plans and operational infrastructure to Sirius Innovations and the Village sites.