Hospital leaders struggling to improve the patient experience at their facilities may be able to benefit from insights gleaned from the hospitality industry. Put the customer, or in hospitals' case, the patient, front and center, said a variety of staff at the Marriott World Center in Orlando, Fla. Another major takeaway: Staff attitude matters when providing quality service.
A behind-the-scenes tour of the Marriott was offered Monday to a group of nearly 50 healthcare professionals attending an excursion at the Institute for Healthcare Improvement conference.
The Marriott's extra service manager, Cheryl Bott, who oversees phone services and manages all customer complaints, said part of her focus is hiring people with the right attitude. “We look for personality more than previous experience,” Bott said. “You have to want to take care of people. That's where it starts. Everything else can be taught.”
That message struck a chord for several on the tour, including Dr. Mary Kuffell, an OB-GYN with the Gundersen Health System in La Crosse, Wis. “Attitude is overlooked in healthcare because it's hard to measure,” she told Modern Healthcare. However, how someone's personality fits with the organizational culture is an important aspect, both for frontline staff, like reception, as well as for skilled nurses and physicians, she said. “If staff don't buy into the mission, they're not going to present that to our patients.”
Other IHI attendees took note of the hotel's lost and found, which keeps all left behind items for months, no matter how trivial they may seem, according to the department manager, Mike Courts. During his chat, attendees stood in a spacious storage room packed floor to ceiling with bins containing valuables, like jewelry and smart phones, and seemingly disposable items, like beach towels and a stuffed penguin toy.
“They make no assumption about the value,” noted Helen Manson, a practitioner from New Zealand. “But in healthcare, we continuously make judgements, without asking what is of value to the patient.”
The focus on customer experience is increasing in the healthcare industry, fueled in part by government surveys linking poor results to financial penalties, online consumers reviews on sites like Yelp and the watchful eyes of consumer groups.
Attendees during the excursion hailed from as far as Singapore and The Netherlands, showing that healthcare organizations across the globe are taking the issue more seriously. They noted that staff at the Marriott said employees were empowered to “do whatever it takes to make the customer happy.” Within limits, that could include providing refunds, complimentary stays or other perks.
“We need to work on that in healthcare,” said Barb Steed, chief nursing executive at Markham Stouffville hospital in Ontario, Canada. “ We need to take a step back to make the patients feel front and center.”
Other takeaways from the tour included the use of standardized uniforms for each type of employee, and the willingness of the hotel to reach out to competitors to make customers happy during an overflow situation.
One attendee on the tour noted that, even when at capacity, hospitals would rarely, if ever, reach out to a nearby competing hospital to place a patient. The IHI member who guided the tour, Paul Levy—a former hospital CEO from Boston who now writes a critical blog of the healthcare industry—said when he was in practice, “we would do everything possible to not send someone across the street.”
Finally, in terms of uniforms, reception staff clothing differed substantially from cleaning staff, and workers in the golf shop had a special outfit that distinguished them from those working in the spa. As a result, returning customers could easily identify who they are encountering and where to direct their questions.
Kuffell says her system implemented a similar policy for nurses, physicians assistants and clinical staff a few years ago. “It was a small change, but boy was it powerful,” she said.
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