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First contact: what entrepreneurs can learn from a visit to an Emergency Room


Without meaning to, the team at Anthill has been testing the Victoria hospital system over the past month. Between us, we have clocked up four visits to the emergency rooms of various Melbourne hospitals, in the past few weeks.

And, as good entrepreneurial types, now that these moments have passed, we’re stepping back and thinking about what we saw and experienced.

The big insight is, that when it comes to that first contact with a hospital, customer service really matters. And, I mean, it really matters.

First contact

Upon arriving at any hospital, you need to see reception to get entered into the system before being triaged. This is usually the first point of contact, unless you’ve had an argument with security about where to park your car.

In one public hospital, for an adult admission, there was one person at reception. There was a queue of seven people waiting. They were all seated, and this gave the impression that there was no queue. So, for new arrivals, optimistic of being seen quickly, this hope was quickly dashed when the extent of the queue just for admission was revealed.

The process of giving your name, address, next of kin and a brief description of why you are there, via this single point took in excess of 15 minutes. Triage was also done at this point.

Basically, it took too long, and the sole person on duty at reception was overloaded and stressed. For the sick and injured, this was not the ideal first contact experience you want with a hospital.

Type: Reception was designed around a single point of failure model.
Rating: Fail

But, it was nothing like being in the House of God. So, really, no major complaints.

In another, a children’s hospital, processing took less than two minutes. Multiple people were working at reception to cater for the four families waiting. The person who was also working reception did not do triage. A dedicated triage nurse, in a specialised room, performed this task.

Type: Reception operated with multiple access points with specialists at each point
Rating: Excellent

Customer service lessons from the ER

It seems obvious doesn’t it? In a highly specialised field, where wait time and response is everything, having distributed experts that can provide a greater level of customer service is going to trump a single-point of failure system.

I am sure the staff working in both these hospitals know this, and agree with this. Funding a distributed-expert model, however, that’s a whole other conversation.

So, the big learning from all of this is nothing new to anyone running a business, or anyone who has been a customer.

That first interaction is crucial, regardless of the business.