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Health Care Can Learn Consumerism from Models Outside the Industry

hospital hospitality A warm welcome on arrival, service that pampers and a gourmet chocolate on the pillow — it’s not a typical hospital experience. But if hospitals want to engage today’s consumers, the hospitality industry may be the ideal source for best practices and innovative leaders that can transform the delivery of care. The President and CEO leading Cancer Treatment Centers of America, Gerard van Grinsven, is putting his experience to the test. 

In an interview with Forbes, van Grinsven shares how the 25 years he spent opening luxury hotels for Ritz-Carlton have given him a unique perspective into how hospitals can adapt — and succeed — in the face of health care consumerism. 

Seeing the Patient as a Person, not an EHR File

More than a decade ago, when he was Vice President and Area General Manager at the Ritz-Carlton Dearborn in Michigan, van Grinsven told an audience attending a Legendary Service Symposium that after receiving 210 emails from employees in his first three days at Dearborn, he thought, “Is anybody looking anybody else in the eye?” 

Immediately, he sent a memo letting employees know that “people are primary, and we cannot let technology get in the way of face-to-face dialogue.” 

It’s a challenge that van Grinsven recognizes within the health care industry. 

As hospitals and other health care providers race to implement information technology to remain competitive and meet federal mandates, they must learn how to use electronic health records (EHRs) and other new systems and methodologies effectively. In the Forbes interview, van Grinsven points out that “The focus is on advancing technology and not on advancing how we connect that technology to improve the experience of the patient.”  

Data entry is so impersonal. Where can hospitals make changes to humanize the patient experience? 

5 Service Principles that Hospitals Can Adopt

The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company has set ‘Gold Standards’ for customer service. Hospitals need to develop a similar culture where all hospital staff — from housekeeping to medical staff to the C-suite — receive customer service training and are empowered to create better personal experiences for patients and their families. 

As van Grinsven told Forbes, “A recent study found that giving doctors training to hone their interpersonal skills can lead to improved patient-clinician relationships and therefore better outcomes.” 

While guests checking into a luxury hotel usually look forward to the experience, patients are not as equally thrilled about a hospital visit, so creating a comforting experience is even more critical if hospitals want to improve patient satisfaction.  

Here are a few strategies that have served Ritz-Carlton well:

1. Greet the patient by name. A warm, friendly hello is a simple personal touch that can help ease anxiety — and it serves as a good reminder at every encounter that the patient is a person, not just a barcode on a wristband. 

2. Anticipate unexpressed wishes and needs. Patients often feel intimidated in the hospital setting. Train hospital staff to respond to possible needs proactively, not just when a buzzer is pushed, to dramatically improve the patient experience.

3. Manage wait times better. It is well documented that long wait times can directly affect how a patient perceives care, but hospitals can develop practices that “reset the clock.” By providing periodic updates or distractions for restless children, you help make the wait time feel shorter.  

Separately, in research my team conducted while at P&G, we found that patient dissatisfaction grew if the patient sat in an exam room for a long period of time before seeing the physician. Many health care providers assume that a patient perceives progress if the time up front in the waiting room is shortened and the patient is led back to the exam room. Generally, this is true, unless the same time is spent, overall, before finally seeing the physician. In the exam room, the patient feels vulnerable and there are many less things to keep her occupied (e.g., magazines), magnifying the perceived wait.

4. Whoever receives a complaint is responsible for solving it. No patient or family member should ever hear phrases like “I don’t know” or “That’s not my job.” If visitors to the hospital look lost, escort them to their destination. If a problem needs to be handed off to someone else, follow-up to make sure it has been resolved. 

5. Offer a sincere goodbye, again by name. Connecting on a personal level is just as important when the patient is about to be discharged because hospitals need patients to stay engaged after they leave to prevent unnecessary readmissions.  

How Health Care Consumerism Is Changing Hospitals

Health care consumerism has the potential to drive change in ways that will positively impact population health. “Progressive healthcare organizations must focus on building services and designing facilities to help their communities enhance wellness,” van Grinsven told Forbes, citing early successes in hospitals following hospitality services examples. 

Digital technology — which van Grinsven sees as an exciting opportunity to “foster connectivity between patients and health care providers” — may well be one of the strategies that hospitals use to institute patient-centered service models. However, in order to develop truly effective avenues of communication, hospitals need deep insights into the needs and motivations of each health care consumer.  

Consumer segmentation can help hospitals fine-tune customer service and communication strategies to address their target audiences on a more meaningful level.  

Contact c2b solutions to discover how health care consumer insights and segmentation can help hospitals succeed in today’s consumer-driven health care landscape.

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