Friday, October 7, 2016

Conference Report: The laboratory and customer satisfaction

Program Office for Laboratory Quality Management (POLQM)
hosted a successful conference/workshop on
Customer Satisfaction and the Medical Laboratory.

Business and industry are very much aware of the importance of listening to and responding their customers’ needs and requirements.  It is not only good business practice and consistent alignment with international standardization (ISO9001:2015 Quality Management requirements, it makes powerful business sense.  You can call this customer-focus or customer-centric. but business understands that nothing will kill off a business faster than having a large herd of unhappy people who prefer to go elsewhere for their goods and services needs.  

Healthcare in general, and Medical laboratories in particular are now slowly getting aligned with the same mindset.  In some countries, the final argument is too compelling to ignore.  The unhappy customer is apt to “sue you into the stone age”.  

 That may not apply so much in Canada, but at least in Canada we can drag the industry forward through mandatory accreditation.  (I really don't like using accreditation as a club, but sometimes you have to make folks understand that this is something they have to do.)  

For medical laboratories in Canada, the accreditation requirement (ISO15189:2012 medical laboratories – requirements for quality and competence), has become pretty much a national requirement and an effective approach to introduce process change on customer needs.
On October 5, 2016 we (the UBC Program Office for Laboratory Quality Management or POLQM) hosted a one-day conference/workshop on listening to laboratory customers in the medical laboratory. Topics covered included defining who are our customers, capturing their opinions (including complaints, concerns, comments and compliments) and monitoring satisfaction as a Quality Indicator,  Speakers included experts from the American Society for Quality, private sector laboratories, public sector health authorities, accreditation bodies, and quality educators, and the new BC Agency for Pathology and Laboratory Medicine.  The participants were all from Canada from Victoria to Toronto and as far north as the Yukon Territories, and from a wide variety of programs and facilities.  

From my (clearly biased and vested) opinion the day went very well.  Most attenders were Quality Managers or Quality Leads or folks in senior positions.  While it was clear that folks came were there to support their per-existing mindset.  As best as I could tell there were no skeptics in the crowd, but perhaps if they were there they were too intimidated to speak up (That can sometimes happen).  

There were some great ideas raised; some stood out.  

  • There are lots of ways to address focusing on the customer.   Maybe some are better than others, but don’t over plan.  Pick one and get going.
  •   Laboratories have a way of thinking they know what their customers want, but all too often don’t get around asking their opinion.  Get the customers involved.
  •    Laboratorians think their work is all about accuracy and precision.  Those are important but so is customer experience.  Many complaints result from  rudeness and indifference.

I talked about on-line surveys, and that if you are going to do them, make sure you do them right; short, simple, if possible on a continuous basis.  Don’t intrude on your customer’s time, effort, and patience, and generosity.  

No conference/workshop goes off perfectly.  One of our speakers decided to back out 4 days before the event (Whata Jerk!!).  One person was annoyed because the lunch did not accommodate vegetarians well (she was probably right; lots of sandwiches, but only about 10 percent were vegetarian.  Our mistake).  But on the whole, people found the day worthwhile and well spent.  There were a few who said the meeting was too short, but none that said it was too long.  I interpret that as a positive!

In our own on-line survey (about 35% of participants responding) they rated their program satisfaction high (mean 85% and median 90%).  

For those with interest in the topic, there is a follow-up webinar on October 27th, and presentations are available at
Safe the Date: 
next Fall Conference on
Laboratory Quality Management
Vancouver BC Canada
 October 1-3, 2017!


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