By Toni J. Eberhardt

Here’s the #1 best practice health care can borrow from retail to help them connect with consumers.

(1) Create a signature experience.

If you have not read, If Disney Ran Your Hospital by Fred Lee, read it and put it into practice. Now. It immediately resonated with me- so many ideas I had been sharing with colleagues, most of whom were “lifers” in healthcare. What shocked me is that most of them- including executives- had read it but had not considered implementing the ideas. One executive from another health system heard the title and said, “Who is this guy? He really thinks Disney is anything like healthcare?”

The fact is that every consumer-facing organization is dependent upon the customer experience, whether they realize it or not. From the parking attendant to registration to the lab to the nurse to the surgeon and every person the patient encounters throughout his stay, everyone is creating your health system’s signature experience.

I had open heart surgery resulting in an eight day hospital stay. I had one of the top cardiac surgeons in the state and was in a hospital run by one of the nation’s leading healthcare systems. Clinically, my healthcare was second to none. Having been a patient at other hospitals, I can say, however, that the patient experience did not stand out against other hospitals (with one exception, so keep reading).

When the CEO of the hospital asked about my experience, I was candid. I shared the positives as well as the “opportunities for improvement.” He summed up what needed to change culturally in one simple statement, “We need to move from task-focused to patient-focused.”

Here’s one experience I shared with him that resulted in that simple but powerful clarity.

I was scheduled to be in the hospital four days but my body was not responding as expected so the stay was doubled. On day seven, the nurse came into my room to perform her daily tasks. She asked me, “You’re here longer than most. What are you missing most from home?”

I said, “My pets. I’d really love to be cuddling with them right now.”

A couple of hours later, the nurse assistant came into to perform his daily tasks. Ironically, he asked the same question, and I responded with the same answer.

He said, “Wait one minute,” and rushed out of my room. Less than three minutes later, he returned with two pet therapy volunteers and their two dogs. He was patient-focused; the nurse was task-focused. He created a signature experience that I have shared numerous times in the three years since that surgery; why she was in my room that day never enters my mind.

Toni J. Eberhardt is the founder and president of Prescriptive Communications, LLC. Ms. Eberhardt has nearly 25 years’ experience in marketing strategy and communications, public relations, crisis communications and public affairs in more than five industries with Fortune 500 companies. Ms. Eberhardt has worked in health care for ten years as a marketing and public relations executive with McKesson, Banner Health and FastMed Urgent Care.

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