Vantage Point: An inside look at the healthcare system

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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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