In his new book, If Disney Ran Your Hospital, author and former hospital executive Fred Lee has put forth some intriguing ideas as to how hospital executives could better run their hospitals if they employed some of the time-tested methods employed by Walt Disney Co. in handling customers and employees.
Lee was vice president of marketing and development at Shawnee Mission (Kan.) Medical Center and later was senior vice president at Florida Hospital in Orlando, where he developed a model guest relations program. His interest in patient relations led to his recruitment by Disney University, a unit of Walt Disney World-where "cast members" are taught prior to working at the facility. There, he helped devise a healthcare version of Disney's Approach to Quality Service, a three-day seminar.
Now a private consultant, Lee knows healthcare and customer relations. His book is filled with insights into how to change a healthcare institution to meet the needs of a changing marketplace. Chapter titles include "Redefine the Competition and Focus on What Can't Be Measured," "Make Courtesy More Important Than Efficiency," "Regard Patient Satisfaction as Fool's Gold" and "Change the Concept of Work from Service to Theater." I want to focus on the last of these chapters.
Anyone who is interested in exploring new concepts in patient care and improving the total environment for healthcare employees should read this chapter. It takes a willingness to get away from accepted healthcare practices and look at things from a much different perspective. Lee puts it succinctly: "Improving patient care by calling it service excellence may have been the best we could come up with in the last two decades, but it misses something that is hard to put your finger on until you understand Disney's business model, which focuses on how to provide better service. In fact, I have found that the best way to revitalize many stalled service-excellence initiatives in hospitals is to make this shift in emphasis from the caregiver's service to the patient's experience. Just changing the language of service and courtesy to one that highlights experience and theater is refreshing and often energizing. Hospital work is theater whether we call it that or not. In this context the word `theater' is not a metaphor."
What Lee means is that when someone goes into a healthcare facility they are about to be involved in a total experience, which is broken up into small vignettes. People may not recall the total experience, but one of the smaller moments will stick with them, be it how rudely a nurse, a physician or even a receptionist treated them. That one incident within a total experience could ruin the perception of the organization or facility, even if the clinical treatment is superb. It is people dealing with people and it is the so-called little things that are remembered.
Yes, going into a hospital is theater. Entering a car dealer's showroom is theater. Going to school is theater.
Recently someone asked me if I got nervous when I spoke to groups and, of course, the answer is yes. I get the butterflies before a speech like an actor does before going on stage. That's because giving a speech or talk is theater. It is theater in the sense that giving a talk is a matter of entertainment. You want to engage your audience, you want them to pay close attention to what you say and remember it later. In the same vein, a hospital wants the patient to experience every element of their visit as one of care and attention, and within that context, body language and eye contact are important.
A new family moved into a house down the block from my home a few months ago. I introduced myself to the new neighbor one day and I asked him where he was from and he told me the West Coast. We got around to talking about why he came to the Chicago area and he told me he was a consultant to a prestigious law firm. His background was in theater and he had been a successful director. Intrigued, I asked him how he got to work for a law firm. "I'm here to help the firm put together various scenarios for some of the law firm's cases. We actually develop various stage settings in order to do a better job presenting the defense or prosecution, and we rehearse lines and gestures and it works with juries and judges."
The more I thought about what he said the more sense it made. Maybe we could do the same thing with hospitals. Hospitals engage patients on emotional, physical, spiritual and intellectual levels.
Lee writes: "Hospital guests do not talk about the services they received. They talk about the experiences they had. Poor service is the surest way to turn a service into a bad experience, remembered and talked about for years." As Lee writes, we need to teach the acting skills to go along with the technical skills.
Lee's book is a good one, filled with all kinds of refreshing ideas that both stimulate and inspire. I was very impressed with his common-sense approach and recommendations on using the Disney model to make patients' and employees' experiences even more positive.
After all, Mickey Mouse is as American as apple pie, and for him to have survived so long in our popular culture certainly suggests Disney might have something to offer the healthcare industry.
Try something new,