Customer Service is Key to Community Respiratory Services Growth

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North York General Hospital’s Community Respiratory Services launched its services in July 1996 with one staff member and one client. Six years later, they have five staff members and 150 home oxygen clients at any given time. They have provided assessment, equipment, education, and clinical support for more than 1,000 patients who need oxygen and 700 patients with obstructive sleep apnea. They have also provided asthma products to thousands of others.

What contributes to their successful growth?Community Respiratory Services Supervisor Scott Lewis says that there are two reasons. The first is basic – good customer service. “I think that for any business to be successful you need to provide good customer service,” he says. “With so much competition from the private sector, we put the emphasis on providing quick, effective and polite service to our clients, which includes referring physicians, allied health-care providers, and patients. We know that if they are satisfied, we will continue to be their provider of choice.”

He explains that a large part of providing excellent customer service is educating clients about the equipment they will be using. When a physician refers a client, the team ensures that they explain the different products suitable for them. A team member is always available on a 24-hour basis, seven days a week to receive new referrals or to provide help if clients have problems with their equipment.

Client Margaret Wilson, who has Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease and needs oxygen at home, says that they live up to the promise of providing excellent customer service.

“I first started getting oxygen from Community Respiratory Services two years ago. I was very impressed that they took the time to educate me about my equipment,” says Margaret. “Whenever I have had a problem with my equipment, the team has always responded quickly, explained what was wrong and how they would fix it. They are always friendly and a real pleasure to deal with.”

The second secret to their success is a good business plan. Through restructuring, the mandate of North York General Hospital to provide health services has grown enormously. The Hospital now serves a much broader community in north central Toronto and southern York Region. Scott says with the Hospital’s growth, they knew that they had to implement a business plan that would allow them to grow along with the organization.

A key part of that plan is cultivating relationships with physicians and other hospital community respiratory services.

“We continue to develop our relationships with internal clients in the Hospital which includes physicians and staff who work with patients in palliative care, paediatrics, neonatal intensive care, emergency services and long term care to name a few,” Scott says. “We make sure the physicians and staff know about how we can help them and their patients.”

The team also belongs to the Hospital Community Respiratory Services Alliance, a group of eight hospitals who provide services across Ontario. Being part of the Alliance helps keep the team up-to-date on important equipment and service issues. Currently, members of the Alliance serve 10 per cent of the oxygen market in Ontario, private sector companies serve the other 90 per cent.

“Being part of the Alliance allows us to share experiences and learn from each other,” he says. “It has also opened doors for us to work with other hospitals and help them set up their own community services. Hospitals really benefit by having their own service because that means there is a real continuum of care for patients. The service also generates income for the Hospital to put towards other programs.”

At North York General Hospital, the funds generated by Community Respiratory Services over the past six years have helped support staff and client education, and the development of new programs for patients.

Scott says this makes real business sense. “This extra money helps us provide more health care services to community members.”

Currently, Scott is helping Humber River Regional Hospital set up Community Respiratory Services.

He adds that many people think that he is setting up his own competition, but he only sees the benefits of hospitals having their own services.

“I can only see the good aspects to helping colleagues,” says Scott. “Everybody wins when you generate income for your hospital, provide better patient care and meet a growing need in the community.”