Often when I am moderating focus groups for hospital clients, I hear patients and former patients complain about the most basic things. In healthcare, we seem to forget that the patient experience starts at the beginning. That could be their experience on the hospital website or their first contact with an employee or volunteer when they walk in the front door. Sometimes that experience begins in the parking garage, minutes before they make it to the front door.
Think about it. When someone greets you warmly and puts a smile on your face, that experience has a way of impacting your entire day. It has a halo effect. It puts you in a good mood and you suddenly see things through positive filters. So why don’t we put more thought and energy into the way we welcome people as they arrive at our facilities?
I have a weekly meeting on the campus of Duke University. I park in one of the parking garages next to the medical center. This is a garage used by a wide variety of patients, including those visiting the Cancer Center. Each week as I pull up to the garage to get my ticket prior to parking, a smiling, boisterous woman greets me and has something positive to say. She is an employee who works at the parking deck, and her job, whether by her design or Duke’s, is to greet people driving into the facility. I don’t know if it is in her job description, but I am certain that her number one priority is to put a smile on the face of each person entering her garage that day. She always compliments me on my neck tie, and if its a Monday, she’ll ask me if I had a good weekend. Sometimes she even sings to all of us and spreads joy. That’s it. She spreads joy. It happens every time I see her.
So how do you think that impacts the patient experience? Imagine people feeling scared and intimidated as they approach this large medical center – the kind of place people go when they are really sick, maybe facing a terminal illness. And think about what it means to them to be greeted with such warmth. I don’t know what they pay that lady at the parking deck, but it is not enough. She is a brand ambassador without equal. Later in the day, as the patient and his or her family members move from one medical appointment to another, that wonderful lady who put a smile on their faces may not be top-of-mind, but I guarantee you that they have a warm feeling about Duke Medicine.
Compare that to the many hospitals I visit where I have trouble getting the employee or volunteer behind the front desk to even acknowledge me. When they do acknowledge me, they often look as if I have interrupted them from something far more important.
I don’t want to over simplify patient experience design. Everything can be perfect and if we fail with patient transport at discharge, that may well be the thing they remember. But one thing we can control, and get right, is the way we welcome patients and family members into our hospitals and outpatient facilities. We can put our best foot forward every time. The idea of a warm greeting should be institutionalized! It should be part of the culture.