I recently had a large home renovation project completed. Before undertaking this huge task, I shopped around a considerable amount. I got wildly fluctuating quotes from contractors in the Boston area, some of whom I would barely trust mowing my lawn (an experience I’m sure most people who have been through this process have had!). In the end however, partly due to a chance recommendation from a friend, I ended up going through Lowes, the national company. I went to my local store and met the design team who would work with me for the next several weeks as we mapped out the project. I knew immediately that I wanted to work with them. Their service had excellent reviews from local customers who had had home renovations, and I could see why. The main designer in particular was fantastic, and patiently took me through all my options. Lowes then used a local contractor, who got to work as soon as we had agreed upon a design and price. The building work took most of last summer in the searing Boston heat. From start to finish, I was just so impressed with the whole experience and attention to detail that was paid to me. If there was any question or issue, as there inevitably always is with these things, I could just pick up the phone at any time or text the designer, project manager or builder. I used this service partly because of my hectic schedule, and it was awesome to have a dedicated project manager.
Towards the end of my renovations, I started hearing rumors that Lowes was about to change its policy in a massive way. Fortunately, it wouldn’t affect me, but would be coming into effect very soon. It went something like this: Essentially, they wanted to change their philosophy of being “local” and shift everything to a “central office”, somewhere in the middle of the country. No longer would customers be able to speak to their trusted local designer or project manager, but now it would all be outsourced through some distant call center. Worse still, there would be a response time of “24-48 hours”, instead of the few minutes or couple of hours that I was used to.
Several months later, I’m still thrilled with my renovations. But I’ve found out that everything has changed at Lowes with this new philosophy. The team that I had the pleasure of working with has been disbanded, some have left, and future customers will no longer have a local service. Very sad indeed.
This whole story is typical of the corporate mentality and is very relevant to healthcare today (probably even more so). As human beings, we crave personal attention and close connections. That’s something the corporate world simply fails to understand. I’ve seen this happen time and again, and it’s more painful when it happens in healthcare—a uniquely personal arena where human touch is everything. Whether we are talking about customers in a home improvement store, or patients in a hospital, the people who are making the big decisions are unfortunately clueless most of the time about what constitutes really good service or competent and dedicated care. They are only too happy to reorganize everything in the name of “efficiency” and satisfying the shareholder, with little regard for the downstream effects. Yet the real world adverse consequences of their actions are only too palpable to the people who matter most.
Who are these corporate leaders who are so detached from the frontlines, and make these terrible decisions just to save a buck or two? Oh Lowes, you disappoint me so. Fortunately for homeowners, there are plenty of other local renovation options available. But as for healthcare, patients may soon not be so lucky.
Suneel Dhand is a physician, author, speaker and healthcare consultant. He has experience in a number of different healthcare environments, having worked up and down the East coast and also internationally. His specialty areas include hospital QI, optimizing healthcare IT, and improving the patient experience. He is the author of 3 books, including most recently “The Ultimate Patient Advocate in Your Pocket”, designed to help hospitalized patients. He is also the founder of HealthITImprove, an organization dedicated to improving and optimizing information technology at the frontlines of healthcare.