Vantage Point: An inside look at the healthcare system

In recent years, ethnography, the close observing and interviewing of subjects over an extended period of time, has gained momentum in healthcare marketing research as a methodology to be employed when we really need to understand a subject in depth. 

Recently, I had the “opportunity” to conduct some personal ethnographic research. To make a long story short, one of the lab values generated by the tests at my annual physical was out of bounds, and I was referred to a major university hospital. The experiences I gathered have left me with a far clearer understanding of the issues facing patients today.

The first thing I learned was that scheduling an appointment with the chair of a department at a major university hospital is not easy. Foolishly, I expected to call the hospital and be put through to make an appointment. Nope. Instead, the only number available was for his department, which took me to a telephone menu in which, no matter what button I pushed, I popped into voice mail. Having left several messages with no return, I sought out the name of a specialist who might return my call. 

I proceeded to call the recommended specialist, got right through to a live person doing the scheduling, and was cheerfully given an appointment a few days hence. Virtually the minute I hung up, the nurse called to tell me that the chairman of the department could see me in a few days. I went for the expert. 

Once I arrived at the institution, I found that the facility was brand new, the equipment astounding and the personnel both competent and friendly. 

The moral? One frequently has to choose between trying to penetrate a large medical institution and a ready reception from a less prominent doctor.

Richard Vanderveer is CEO of GfK Healthcare
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