The customer is always right

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The customer is always right…
By: David Newton, Director of Operations

“The customer is always right” is a slogan by which most successful businesses live and die.  We learn early in our careers that we must listen to “the voice of the customer.” “No” is a word we don’t use when talking with customers, and a disappointed customer is one who will likely not be around for very long.  Solving problems and providing solutions for customers is what lies at the essence of all successful business, and as we do so we want a happy customer whose interests are aligned with ours and who feels taken care of and listened to.  Business people have entire departments (sales) dedicated to making sure that the customer is not only “always right” but also that they are never told “No” and that  ultimately, they are happy.  Success is optimized when there is alignment and a “Win-Win” dynamic in place. In this respect, medicine is not unlike any other business.  We are solving problems by saving lives. We want positive outcomes for our patients and we do well if they do well.  We too want happy patients, but not at the expense of quality of care, and this is where things differ.

As stewards of knowledge that our patients may not have and having taken the oath to place others interests above our own, we simply cannot make every patient happy all of the time.  We want them happy, if for no other reason than a happy patient is one who is more likely to stay committed to long-term recovery.  However, it’s not that simple. 

In treating those who struggle with addiction and other behavioral health issues, we find ourselves at this crossroads nearly every day; patients who want medications that we know aren’t good for them and patients who need more care than what we might be able to provide are two issues which come up regularly.   Another is optimal group size for treatment.  Deciding what to recommend to a patient becomes even more challenging when there is not necessarily a correct and incorrect answer.  For instance, what exactly is the optimal group size for treating complex co-occurring eating and substance use disorders?   Is it 6, 8 or maybe 10?  The answer, it depends….  Deciding whether a patient needs IOP, PHP or Residential is another one where there is not always a black or white answer.   ASAM has specific criteria for determining the appropriate level of care, but anyone in this field knows there is always some subjectivity as to what is best for the patient and that can easily lean either way depending on who is doing the analysis.  Is it always the right decision to deny prescribing a stimulant such as Adderall to an addict?  The answer is generally yes, as this medication is addictive in and of itself and it further dissociates people from their insides- all bad for the addict.  However, it could be helping with ones ADHD, in which case there could be an argument made to keep the person on it.

At SCH we have disappointed several patients because Dr. Kim would not prescribe a medication which she believed would be harmful to the patient.  We have disappointed several because they wanted very badly to join our IOP but our clinical team felt it was best to say no either because our group size was already too big to provide optimal treatment, or because we felt a HLOC (higher level of care) was more appropriate for the patient.  These decisions have in all cases lead to “unhappy” customers, yet any good clinician who puts their patient’s interests above those of themself would have made the same decision.  Making such decisions to say “No” to patients is one that is never easy, as we all want to help everyone, nobody really wants to turn anyone away and we are all human- it is hard to say “No”.  However, good clinical care in this field requires “No’s” all the time, and with good clinical care comes good long term business.

Medicine is unlike any other business.  It requires us to say “No” all the time because that is what is in the best interest of our patients.  Of course we want happy customers!  More importantly, we want healthy customers who can recover from these deadly diseases.  In time and with recovery, our hope is that these patients will look back and be grateful for the course on which we helped them stay.  For the team at SCH and because of Dr. Kim’s unwavering commitment to always doing what is best for her patients, we know nothing else.