Rate Your Health Care Provider – Brave Move by NIB

Whitecoat
A much-touted principle in customer-service oriented industries is the one of ‘continuous improvement’.  Part of the process of continuous improvement is seeking customer feedback on the level of service they have received.  These processes enable business owners to track how their front-line employees are performing and to make adjustments as appropriate.

Australian health insurance provider NIB has taken this process a quantum leap further with the introduction of a new website entitled Whitecoat.  This new website encourages the members of NIB to search for, compare, and importantly rate the services of a range of ancillary providers:  professionals such as dentists, optometrists, physiotherapists, chiropractors, podiatrists and osteopaths and many more.

NIB in announcing this initiative said it had developed Whitecoat in response to demand from their customers for information to help them choose an ancillary provider.

The development came about, NIB said, in order to provide consumers with greater transparency, more freedom and ultimately more power in their decision making.

Rather than uploading pure and raw data, like that available in the ‘comment’ field of a post on a Facebook page, NIB claims that it ‘strictly manages the process for obtaining, reviewing and publishing both data and comments regarding each ancillary provider’.

This assurance that the content will be managed will no doubt be of some comfort to the ancillary providers, who may fear their reputations might be damaged through negative customer feedback.  This would particularly be the case when customers are reviewing various providers when they are looking to change providers or who are seeking out a particular ancillary health service for the first time.

While transparency and enhanced customer choice would certainly be beneficial, I do wonder if the reputations, and therefore potentially the livelihoods, of some health care providers may be irreparably damaged by the uploading of negative commentary.

I would have thought a more useful system would be to upload positive comments, as I can personally vouch for the power of a word-of-mouth recommendation for such an important and highly personal service as dentistry or paediatrics; but that negative comments should perhaps be sent directly to the service provider, giving them the opportunity to provide some form of redress.  By comparison, a flurry of positive comments about one provider, when compared to the complete lack of recommendations for another provider in the same field, would have power, surely?

I also wonder, to what extent are these customer feedback comments vetted for authenticity, and what might happen if a service provider was unfairly targeted by a competitor or was the victim of sour grapes by a former client?  What protection exists for their corporate reputation in these circumstances?  The misuse of this Whitecoat website could be very damaging indeed to corporate reputation.

As an advocate of increased communication, better customer service and enhanced transparency, this new service could be of great benefit for health consumers, but must be handled, like our own health, with great care.


Yours in PR,

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