54 Emails and 38 Phone Calls Later…

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the team at Speedoc, June 11, 2019

In my job, I’ve been asked to explain what Speedoc does many a time. Depending on who’s asking, my answers run the gamut, ranging from explaining that house calls are our first line of business, to our aspiration of bringing hospital-level care to home.

54 emails and 38 phone calls later, that answer has changed.

You know, I’ve been part of many large companies before. I’ve gone through customer service trainings that ranged from 2 hour briefings to 3-day workshops. I’ve gone through in excruciating detail what it means to ‘surprise and delight’, or ‘inspire and nurture’, or be ‘customer-centric’ in all that we do. Any of that sound familiar yet? Because all, and none, of those prepared me for what my team and I had to do today.

The name of one of our patients, a 26 year old foreign female, who had been travelling the world for the past 11 months, showed up in our email inboxes a couple of days ago. She was a referral from one of our many insurance partners. Many, many tests later showed that there was a late onset of dengue fever, something that our original Day 1 tests didn’t detect. With her platelet count on a quick downtrend, the decision was made to escalate her to the A&E.

Then came a flurry of emails. All of which had nothing, and everything, to do with the medical treatment she would receive from someone other than us.

Please wait until admission is authorised. No, hospital transport is not authorised. No, she can’t go to that hospital. Please send her to one of our approved partners. Hospitalisation is approved. Investigations are not authorised. No, her food and drink are not authorised. Please send us all relevant documents. Please justify the need for these blood tests. Her treatment is not authorised. We are awaiting further updates. Please do not make payment yet. Please hold. We will update you further. The patient is cost-liable. Please do not contact the patient again without our permission.

Through every single email and call that my team and I fielded over the span of 3 days (including the titular 54 emails and 38 phone calls in the span of the final 2 hours); at the other end of it, was a very scared, very worried, young lady who was only my age(!), sitting alone in a foreign hospital; in a foreign land; in a very uncomfortable chair; a needle in her arm; rocking back and forth; trying to get comfortable with her aching, fevered body; trying not to cry; texting the insurance WhatsApp helpline over and over again, waiting to see if her treatment would be approved.

The hospital would not admit her if she did not pay a deposit first, courtesy of her foreign passport.

The insurance company, that had been so discourteous to us previously, called us 5 times in a row within 90 seconds, telling us that the hospital did not accept their guarantee of payment, and that they couldn’t reach their agent in Singapore, and asking whether we would be kind enough to make payment first so that this young lady could receive treatment. The hospital helpline couldn’t find records of her admission, and put me on hold for half an hour before telling me that she was still in the emergency room waiting.

My heart broke. I got into the car, sent a text to my mum that I would be late for dinner, and I drove straight to the hospital to find her.

Of course, the questions were aplenty. I fielded them all. Are we really making payment first? Yes. Is this the right thing to do? Yes. Are you headed to the hospital? Now? Can you find her? Yes, yes, and yes.

There were questions from the insurance providers too. Can we have a memo before approval? How much is the estimated cost? Is there an administrative charge to what you are doing? What are the differences in the room rates? How is the specialist call back fee decided?

The patient smiled wanly at me as I got on the phone, for the 28th, 29th and 30th time. I squeezed her hands and told her I was still there with her. I got her a cup of water. I asked her if she was hungry. She said she’d eaten, but she’d really love a room to rest in and she hoped her room would be approved soon. I left voice mails and sent curt emails. I snapped photos of the financial counselling papers, the charges, the terms and conditions, the carbon copies of her memos – and sent everything across – as much information as I could to see if I could get anything expedited for her. The answer was always heartbreakingly, sickeningly, the same.

Please do not do anything until we have approval.

I closed my eyes. So many emails, so many calls, so many messages – and did any of it MATTER? The only thing that really mattered was that fevered hand in mine.

Anyway, I’m not even sure how, but without final approval from the insurance, I managed to get an in-principle approval to put down a deposit for the patient. The deposit amount was enough for me to get the patient a room to rest in and get the hospital to admit her, 5 or 6 hours since she first set foot into the hospital. I was asked by the front desk, the charge nurse, and the business office what my relation was to the patient. Each time, I answered, “primary care provider”. I put down “primary care provider” on every form that I filled in to guarantee payment.

I wasn’t her mother, sister, grandchild or wife; like so many others were in the waiting room. I wasn’t related to her. But I’ll tell you what I was. I was part of the Speedoc team, and wegave a damn about the ‘care’ part of healthcare in the entire ecosystem surrounding this patient. We didn’t stop even when we handed over care to another provider. We walked into the hallways of our competitor to help in ways we weren’t trained to do. We fielded email after email, call after call, not for ourselves, and not for the payment for services we didn’t charge for; but for the simple, plain goal of getting our patient a room to rest in for the night.

And I’d tell you – that’s what we do. Here at Speedoc. We care.

This post was written by Serene Cai, Co-Founder and Head, Marketing & Communications at Speedoc.

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