EMS Revisited is an exclusive column that offers reprints of various columns and articles from our archives that are not currently available in electronic format. In the January 2003 issue of EMS Magazine (now EMS World Magazine) we began a year-long series on customer care in EMS. Here we will reprint the series in its entirety.
Customer service is a vital component of our work that can have a tremendous impact not just on individual patients, but on us and our EMS systems as well. This is the first installment in a series dealing with customer service in EMS. It will discuss the need for it, define it and examine how to provide it. Although many of us already provide excellent service to our customers, it is the author's hope that by defining and providing examples, readers will find new ways to raise their level of service to their communities even higher. For simplicity, all medical responders will be referred to as EMTs.
It used to be that if you got sick or hurt, you called the ambulance, which took you to the hospital. Today, you can probably use the ambulance and hospital of your choice. Who you choose may be based upon your "feeling" about one agency or another. Where do these feelings come from? Maybe personal experience or a recommendation, or an agency's image or advertising. You do know that after one single experience with any business, you form an opinion about them. If you walk away satisfied, you will almost certainly go back.
What makes one EMS?agency better than another? The quality of the CPR, the strength of the epi, the sharpness of the IV catheters? Let's be real:?Every ambulance crew carries virtually the same certification and equipment. Often, the biggest difference is the people: How the EMTs treat their patients and other customers has the biggest effect on how their care is perceived by the public. The public doesn't have the experience to judge us on our medical skills, but they can tell when they are treated with consideration, professionalism and respect.
What Is Customer Service?
At Sears, it probably means getting a good blender at a good price. But we are not Sears. So what, then? The first thing people expect from you is a professional level of medical care. Anyone who sees you fumbling with an IV, having trouble with your equipment or acting like you don't know what you're doing is not going to think you are a good EMT. So the first part is easy:?Just be a good EMT.
The second part can be more elusive. Good service means leaving your customers satisfied, and that means giving them what they expect, or if you can't, telling them why. What a customer wants when they call 9-1-1 is someone who can help them. If you have a delayed response, for example, that may be all they care about, even if your medical care is stellar. Take a moment to tell them, "I'm sorry it took so long to get here. We were the only unit available, and we were out of town." That shows you understand their feelings.
You and I both know that sometimes the public has unrealistic expectations. We have to be aware of any gaps that occur between what they expect and what we can do. Exceed their expectations, and your service will be perceived as excellent.
Who Is Our Customer?
Why, our patients, of course. That's pretty obvious, right? We arrive like descending angels, scoop up ill parties and get them to the hospital as quickly as possible. But what about the family member left standing in the now-empty house, looking at a pile of 4x4 wrappers, inside-out gloves and furniture moved all over the place? What about other responders who didn't even get a thank you? Aren't they customers also?
The patient's family members and friends care about the patient. They want to know what is happening and are important participants in the call. Taking a moment to speak to them can make a huge difference in how your care is perceived. Notice I say perceived. You may provide technically perfect care, but if they are confused, brushed aside or ignored, they will not appreciate your skill. Don't forget that many times, perception is reality.