VC Notes Archive Office of the Vice Chancellor
Friday, February 15, 2019

What the Mouse Can Teach Us

Good morning! 

I mentioned recently in this space that we have begun the early rollout of some strategic planning activities, anticipating a major overhaul of our “UMMC 2020” plan during the next year.  Even though we only do these major updates every five years, the execution of the plan is continual and we check regularly on our progress toward our organizational goals.

Portrait of Fred Lee's If Disney ran your hospital bookAt one of these meetings last fall, Dr. Mike McMullan, professor of cardiology and chief of the Division of Cardiology, rose and, with the intensity that Mike is known for, strongly recommended a book for all those present to read.  Written by Fred Lee, the book is If Disney Ran Your Hospital: 9½ Things You Would Do Differently

This is not a new, cutting-edge book.  The first printing was in 2004.  In fact, there is a whole cottage industry out there consisting of books and training programs that have tapped into the secrets of high-service organizations like Disney, Ritz-Carlton and Nordstrom and have tried to apply them to the health care sector.  But Lee’s book is considered a forerunner and a classic among health care executives.

I know what some of you are thinking.  Disney, really?  Do world-renowned amusement parks in California and Florida have something to teach hospitals about the customer experience?

I was curious, so I read the book over the holidays.  And I have to say, Mike was right.  The book offers many insights and advice that can help inform our thinking about how we can improve the experience of not only our patients, but all of our “customers,” both external and internal. 

Fred Lee is a former hospital executive in Orlando who, almost as an experiment, had the opportunity to go through the training program that Disney provides to all its employees.  Disney, of course, is in the business of providing memorable experiences for its customers.  Some of the more interesting points he makes in the book: 

Patients expect quality care.  That’s their baseline.  So when they receive quality care it’s, well, it’s unremarkable.  Lee writes:  “Patients judge their experience by the way they are treated as a person, not by the way they are treated for their disease.” 

According to Press Ganey (which happens to be our vendor for patient satisfaction and employee engagement assessment), the top drivers of patient satisfaction are seen in responses to these survey items:

  1. How well the staff worked together
  2. Overall cheerfulness of the hospital
  3. Response to your concerns and complaints during your stay
  4. Amount of attention to your personal and special needs

That the medical team fixed the patient’s problem is important, but on average, it ranks well down the list.  Interestingly, No. 1 above speaks to teamwork.  Lee notes that teamwork across departments improves when all the members of the team share a focus on courtesy toward the patient. More to come on that topic!

Most marketing experts will tell you that “word-of-mouth” recommendations are by far the most effective form of promotion of your hospital or any business.  Said Lee:  “Patients reserve their good word-of-mouth and loyalty for hospitals where they feel their needs were met by a courteous, caring staff.” 

Merely “satisfying” patients isn’t enough, Lee says.  “It takes something memorable to turn an ordinary, satisfactory experience into something special.  Either something happened that you remember as bad, or something happened that you remember as special.  Dissatisfaction comes from the bad.  Loyalty is generated by memorable things that happened that we didn’t expect.”

In surveys of patients, the most important factor in distinguishing between patient satisfaction and patient loyalty is the question, “How likely is it that you would recommend this hospital to a family member or friend?”

Compassion is the single most important correlate associated with a memorable positive experience.  Courtesy is also important, but to some extent it is expected, both toward the patient and the family. 

“Competence and courtesy are expected and should be equally hardwired into staff behavior,” Lee writes.  “But meeting these expectations does not automatically produce a loyal patient because they expect any hospital to do the same.  It isn’t meeting patients’ expectations that makes a hospital stay unique or special.  It is the spontaneous, unexpected, memorable moments that generate feelings of loyalty.  More often than not, it is the compassionate connection between a caregiver and a patient that elevates common courtesy into something more tender and unforgettable than good, routine care.”

“If I ran a hospital, I would have the same standard Disney has,” Lee writes.  “You never pass another individual in the hallways without greeting that person with a smile.”

I often think about this when I’m walking the halls and some employee who doesn’t know me offers a smile and a “Good morning!” while others have their eyes cast downward or at their phones.  We should all strive to connect with those around us, especially our patients and visitors.   

I’ve only scratched the surface of what Fred Lee has to offer in this readable little book.  We have put a few copies on reserve in the Rowland Medical Library if you are interested in learning more.

I’m confident we’re headed in the right direction in terms of monitoring and enhancing our patients’ experience.  Established nearly two years ago, the Office of Patient Experience is doing more and more to listen to and embrace the voice of the patient and to step in when a patient’s experience is less than what we would hope.  I thank our Patient Experience employees for their daily commitment to our patients.

Of course, it takes a village.  We can’t delegate this task to others.  We have many, many people at UMMC who “get it” with regard to how patients and their families should be treated.  What we need is to foster the development of an even stronger culture that holds these values sacrosanct.  And I think that’s where we can learn a thing or two from Disney.  

I don’t think I have to remind you that it’s a jungle out there.  We have many tough competitors and, through technology and market innovation, more every day.  It’s comforting to think that we possess the means to all but guarantee that patients and their families return to us again and again for their health needs.  And that it’s as simple as giving them a pleasantly memorable experience through our kindness, courtesy and genuine concern for their welfare.

I’ll leave you with a final quote from Fred Lee: 

“Remember, customers can tell you only what they have come to expect.  But what they expect is also what they consider ordinary.  They cannot tell you what extraordinary looks like.  That takes commitment, empathy and creativity on the part of administrators, managers and caregivers.  Surprise them with kindness.  Surprise them with empathy.  Surprise them with innovations.  Surprise them with something extraordinary, and you will earn their undivided loyalty.”

Thank you for helping us create a kinder, more patient-focused UMMC on our way to A Healthier Mississippi.


Follow me on Twitter @LAWoodwardMD