Time to cure Kenya's poor doctor customer service

Coast General Hospital
Patients wait to be attended to by doctors at the Coast General Hospital. PHOTO | LABAN WALLOGA | NMG 

Muriethi founded and operates a small firm that creates specialised branding solutions for corporate clients. Since his firm only retains four employees, he decided to outsource his bookkeeping and accounting role seeing no reason to hold a full time worker to perform the functions.

On Monday, Muriethi called his accountant’s office to see when they could meet. The receptionist told him that Nyamboke, his accountant, could see him Tuesday at 2pm. Pleased at the early availability of his accountant, Muriethi cleared his calendar and planned to meet her. He left his work at 12 noon to drive across Nairobi to his accountant’s office. He arrived just before 2pm. However, when he got off the lift on the 5th floor office, he was stunned to see a queue of other business owners standing and seated sneaking around the reception area and out the door into the corridor. The receptionist explained that Nyamboke was always busy and that Muriethi should just sign the register and then wait in the queue.

Frustrated, he stood in the line. By 2:45pm, he saw Nyamboke nonchalantly get off the lift, walk into the reception, and over to her office. Incensed, he demanded to meet her right away. But the receptionist explained that Nyamboke’s lunch meeting must have run late, which is why she was not in the office yet. By 4pm, Muriethi still had not seen his accountant. He pondered why he had to waste an entire afternoon. By 5:15pm he finally got into Nyamboke’s office where she proceeded to tell him that she was extremely busy, and they could only meet for five minutes.

How many Business Daily readers would tolerate such dismal dreary customer service to meet their accountant? Likely 100 percent of Nyamboke’s customers would not endure the tragically comedic poor office management. Even word about her time management incompetence would spread and dwindle her customer base.

However, why do Kenyans across our socio-economic classes accept distasteful customer experiences from medical doctors? Other professional service fields from lawyers to accountants to contractors to public relations professionals to psychologists to bankers each operate under better functioning office structures and continually improve customer experiences to reduce wait times and increase efficiencies.


Nonetheless, we accept doctor indifference to their customers’ experiences because often medical issues make us fearful and we also assume that we have too few doctors, so we excuse bad behaviour.

But as a society of consumers, let us develop a functional patient’s bill of rights. We should not go to a general practitioner or a specialist consultant doctor that holds only open office hours, refuses to book dedicated appointments, or double books appointments. If patients refused such doctors en masse coupled with better and more prevalent online doctor ratings systems by insurers and tech companies, industry standards would improve. We must name and shame not just medically incompetent doctors, but also those with wretched customer care. Also, new initiatives by the Aga Khan University Hospital and new start-up medical facilities like MedLux International seek to dramatically improve patient experience from a customer service perspective.

Hopefully such initiatives will trickle down throughout the medical industry to individual doctor clinics. But sadly, when care in our urban centres is lacking in wait times, rural medical care can take days instead of hours.

Further, medical education and training programmes often do not teach customer experience or management principles. So, our Kenyan doctors become very good in medicine, but poor as clinic and hospital administrators. But medical management programmes do exist from USIU-A to Strathmore to Amref as different educational institutions train leadership skills for doctors. As patients demand better, then our higher demands will in turn push more doctors to learn management best practices.

Finally, doctors could follow western and eastern practices and utilise eClinic software. While large public and private Kenyan hospitals have largely integrated HMIS systems to improve efficiency and patient experiences, a 2018 USIU-A survey of clinics and doctor office across north-eastern Nairobi found only 19 per cent used office management software and none utilised the software for patient booking and scheduling. International patient and clinic management software for small doctor offices and clinics exist.

In summary, let us appreciate the high level of medical competence of many of our doctors that attracts patients from all across East, Central, and the Horn of Africa. But let us not become too complacent to accept poor customer experiences in doctors’ offices and small clinics. Customer demand, doctor management training, and eClinic software can dramatically improve patient satisfaction.