Earlier this week I visited my nephew and his newborn baby (see above), delivered a few days ago at Coastal Carolina Hospital, in Hardeeville, South Carolina. My nephew and his wife spoke glowingly of the service they had received at the hospital, and it just goes to show that there really is hope when it comes to delivering a better patient experience.
That's great, because most hospital patient experiences are (may I speak frankly here?) simply awful. Many patients go to the hospital in the first place because they are ill, of course, but even elective surgery and other non-illness hospital stays (such as childbirth) can often be terribly unpleasant. At most hospitals the patients just aren't treated like customers at all, but more like--um--patients.
IDEO, the design and innovation firm, even addressed this issue once with a hospital client of theirs by contrasting a hospital stay with a fine restaurant meal. To teach the client's executives about how lousy a hospital experience really was for the patient, they put the staff through an exercise designed to build empathy for patients using a fine restaurant as an analogy. How would a fine restaurant be operated, if it were run the same way a modern hospital is run?
First, of course, there would be no boundary between the "backstage" and "public access" part of the restaurant. Diners would have to eat while surrounded by cooks, pots and pans, and dishwashers. In addition, according to IDEO's write-up of the exercise,
"Actors played the parts of waiters, who treated our guests in an incomprehensibly brisk manner. Diners were required to wear unflattering bibs. Unexplained dishes came and went. There was a lot of waiting with no explanation."
In hospital care today, I think the real cutting edge of innovation lies not just in the technology of medicine itself, but in the techniques of delivering service to patients, as well.
- Mayo Clinic sends its medical staff to hospitality companies to receive training in customer service.
- Cleveland Clinic requires its 43,000 staff members to attend half-day workshops on empathy.
- Griffin Hospital opened up all its medical records to the patients involved, cutting the rate of malpractice claims by more than 40%.
- And at UCLA Health System, managers have built an entire hospital culture around constantly improving patients' satisfaction with their experience.
As for my nephew, one of the most notable elements of their hospital experience, he said, was the dinner that Coastal Carolina Hospital put on for him and his wife, the day following the delivery, before they headed home with the baby. It was a "white tablecloth" dinner, he said, served in his wife's hospital room with the lights dimmed and some very nice food, professionally prepared. Definitely not the standard hospital fare. Just a romantic dinner for two, right there in the hospital, celebrating the beginning of a new family.
For me, of course, his story immediately brought to mind the IDEO exercise. But Coastal Carolina Hospital's service, according to my nephew and his wife, was simply spectacular in all respects, and they related the story of their final dinner as just one easily understandable example.
In 2014 Coastal Carolina Hospital broke ground on its women's pavilion, and staffed it with six OB/GYN doctors and a certified nurse midwife. Katy Mowery, hired to serve as the new director of women's services, told me that while the white-tablecloth dinner is certainly something that young mothers notice, one of the most important features of this new women's pavilion is that it operates on what's called a "laborist" model, in which an OB/GYN doctor is available and on duty at the hospital on a 24/7 basis.
According to Mowery, this allows women to come to the hospital at any time of the day or night and be immediately treated by a doctor, rather than having to wake someone up, or wait for someone to arrive. And the laborist model greatly benefits the quality of care provided. For instance, she said, it dramatically reduces the rate of cesarean sections performed. Coastal Carolina has the lowest first-birth c-section rate in the entire state, and surely one of the lowest in the country, at about 10%. Most hospitals do c-sections for first-time births at twice this rate. And of course, a cesarean is not only more medically risky (because it involves surgery), but much more expensive, as well.
So yes, bring on the white-tablecloth dinners and the fine hotel services. But don't forget that when you treat patients the way a good business would treat its customers, you're also likely to get better medical results, lower costs, and fewer negative experiences.