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When Customer Service Meets Patient Care

DOVER AIR FORCE BASE, Del. -- "Why is there always a line at the Pharmacy or the Lab?" "What do you see on the X-ray?"

Anyone working in Radiology, Pharmacy or Lab has heard these questions any number of times. Patients who are tired of waiting, confused, concerned or simply don't want to be there often have these feelings.

In the world of ancillary healthcare, we work to serve two masters. On one hand, we serve you, the patient and strive to provide the best service possible. On the other, we serve your provider who referred you to us for assistance with your care. In this relationship, we sometimes find conflict. The key to resolving this is our ability to translate that conflict to a betterment of your overall health.

The statement "The customer is always right" has been famously attributed to Henry G. Selfridge when he established his department store in London. While customer service is of tremendous importance, we must maintain a balance with our responsibility to provide the best care. Years ago, most patients accepted that "The doctor knows best." While this philosophy is in decline as patients become more educated and involved in their own care, your Primary Care Manager must always remain at the center of your care and be completely involved with all aspects of your health. To this extent, we in the ancillary world, cannot change your medication, give you lab results or interpret your X-rays without your provider's consent.

Unfortunately, this internal collaboration and the resulting discussions can take time. Time that you don't want to waste and time that we wish we could reduce. Our Lab technicians must be concerned if you had a cup of coffee and a bowl of cereal prior to drawing a Lab that required fasting. As a Pharmacist, if I discover a problem with a medication or a potential interaction, I must act. I cannot allow myself to worry that I promised it in 15 minutes or that your provider was running two hours late. I am mindful of those things, but I care more about your health and my promise to uphold my oath as a pharmacist and according to the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy (AACP) "Oath of a Pharmacist" to "Assure optimal outcomes for my patients." This oath however does not absolve my responsibility to capitalize on opportunities to improve your clinic experience.

In the Diagnostic and Therapeutic Flight we are actively working to improve the quality of our service without hampering the care provided. Over the past year, our Pharmacy began accepting faxed prescriptions, and has made several changes of our non-formulary medications to formulary equivalents. In addition, we have installed a prescription drop box for anyone who wishes to return later to pick up their medications. Even though our workload has increased 10 percent over last year, we strive to maintain the same high level of customer service. Our diagnostic imaging team is in the process of upgrading their equipment to make it easier for our Radiologists to read your images and expedite our turn-around times.

Anyone who has flown on a commercial airline in recent times has heard some variant of the following: "We know you have many options when traveling and we thank you for choosing XX airlines." The same is very true for our departments, we know that you have the ability to use many off-base ancillary options and we are tremendously proud of the trust that you place in our professionalism each and every day. Every exam, test and prescription that is performed in the 436th Medical Group comes at a cost savings to the government. We know that cost savings alone is not sufficient to warrant your patronage. Please continue to provide your feedback on the customer service cards, whether good or bad, so we can provide the best possible care and service. Thank you for helping us live up to the Air Force Medical Service motto: "Trusted Care, Anywhere!"