In the past, customer experience in many hospitals focused predominantly on the high end of the market: concierge medicine and VIP patients. But customer experience isn’t just a marketing tool and revenue generator focused on providing more cable channels and comfortable chairs to the top one percent. Today, hospitals should consider thinking about the customer experience more broadly – from how patients experience health care even before the point of care, to how family members and loved ones also go through the patient journey. Customer experience can directly improve patient health, patient satisfaction, and savings – all increasingly important in today’s value-based care market. Some innovative health systems are creating new roles to focus on this, and are offering a suite of services tailored specifically to the patient experience.
One health system in New York has a Chief Experience Officer who has worked in both the hospitality and health care industries.1 In this role, he takes the entire non-clinical experience into consideration, starting from the parking lot throughout the patients’ and caregivers’ journey in the hospital, including retail shops and the café.2
River’s Edge Hospital and Clinic in St. Peter, Minnesota is a 15-bed community hospital – each of its 15 rooms are private suites. In addition to a low patient to nurse ratio, the hospital allows open visitor hours and free Wi-Fi to all patients and guests. Patients also receive adult coloring books and colored pencils, and the Chief Executive Officer personally visits patients every week.3
Finally, Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City designed an emergency room specifically for elderly patients where the floors are nonskid and hand rails are on walls.4 The beds have thicker mattresses to prevent bedsores and chairs recline. An artificial skylight’s brightness adjusts based on the time of day and helps patients orient themselves to time of day.
Investments in patient experience can be good for the bottom line, too. Recent Deloitte Center for Health Solutions research suggests that hospitals with high patient-reported experience scores have higher profitability. Hospitals with “excellent” Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS) patient ratings between 2008 and 2014 had a net margin of 4.7 percent, on average, as compared to just 1.8 percent for hospitals with “low” ratings.
Health systems interested in learning from these innovative health systems and creating a leading edge customer experience program could consider the following:
• Create a home away from home: Private rooms can not only improve patients’ comfort levels, but they also can directly improve care. Studies show that by separating patients into their own rooms, infections decrease by as much as 50 percent.5 With fewer distractions and interruptions, patients in private rooms are able to rest better. They are also less likely to withhold personal health information when speaking to clinicians, compared to if another patient was within ear’s reach.6 And while private rooms are more costly than shared spaces, research has shown that the cost is recuperated through the reduction in infections.7 Providing space for a family member or friend to spend the night also makes the hospital stay easier for patients and their caregivers, and having an extra pair of eyes and hands with the patient can also improve outcomes.8
• Bring the outside in: Hospitals, constructed with building regulations and clinical teams’ needs as top priorities, may need a refresh when it comes to incorporating the patient experience. For instance, one area hospitals can consider would be ways to maximize natural light. Research suggests that patient rooms with more natural light have been found to have shorter length of stays than those without.9 Rooms with windows looking out at natural scenes (e.g. trees) rather than brick walls needed fewer pain medications.10 Even pictures of nature have been shown to improve outcomes for patients.11
• Provide on-demand services via technology: Tablets and mobile apps provide patients with communication tools, educational materials, and entertainment. With new technology, patients can call their nurse from a tablet, order lunch, and ask the pharmacy to fill a prescription before they are discharged. The devices can also be loaded with patient education videos or other information that patients and family members can review before and after medical procedures. Mobile devices are also being used to distract children before their surgeries, keeping them calm as they enter the operating room. Apps can provide information to patients and family members on the hospital itself: parking options, maps of the inside of the hospital, visiting hours, and food options, in addition to access to patients’ health records. And of course, these devices can be used to play music or video content to entertain patients during their recovery.
These are just a few ways hospitals can move towards a more consumer-centric experience. While some of these solutions may seem small, and others will require major investments, each step towards increasing patient comfort, decreasing stress levels, and improving care can add up to a big difference in consumer experience and savings for the overall health care system.
1 R. Reiss. “Hospital and Hotel Leaders Advance Customer Experience,” Forbes, 2017, Jan 12.
2 T. Davenport. “North Shore-LIJ Names Sven Gierlinger Chief Experience Officer,” Northwell Newsroom, 2014 June 4.
3 M. Haefner and M. Bean. “16 hospitals with great customer service,” Becker’s Hospital Review, 2016 July 20.
4 A. Hartocollis, “For the Elderly, Emergency Rooms of Their Own,” New York Times, 2012 April 9.
5 D.Y. Teltsch, J. Hanley, V. Loo, et al., “Infection Acquisition Following Intensive Care Unit Room Privatization,” Arch Intern Med. 2011 Jan;171(1):32-38.
6 Barlas, A.E. Sama, M.F. Ward, et al., “Comparison of the auditory and visual privacy of emergency department treatment areas with curtains versus those with solid walls,” Ann Emerg Med.2001 Aug;38(2):135-9.
7 H. Sadatsafavi, B. Niknejad, R. Zadeh, et al., “Do cost savings from reductions in nosocomial infections justify additional costs of single-bed rooms in intensive care units? A simulation case study,” J Crit Care.2016 Feb;31(1):194-200.
8 “Family Presence: Visitation in the Adult ICU,” Critical Care Nurse. 2012 Aug:32(4):76-8.
9 F. Benedetti, C. Colombo, B. Barbini, et al., “Morning sunlight reduces length of hospitalization in bipolar depression,” J Affect Disord.2001 Feb;62(3):221-3.
10 R.S. Ulrich, “View through a window may influence recovery from surgery,” Science, 1984 Apr 27;224(4647):420-1.
11 U. Nanda, S. Eisen, R.S. Zadeh, et al., “Effect of visual art on patient anxiety and agitation in a mental health facility and implications for the business case,” Journal of Psychiatric and Mental Health Nursing, 2011 June;18(5): 386–393.