Why Hospitality Matters in Healthcare

A diagnosis & treatment plan for care delivery

Great Patients Think Alike

Not to brag, but I’m a really good patient. Like, the teacher’s pet of patients. I come prepared for appointments, I follow my treatment plans, and I bring a bottle of wine around the holidays.

  1. Why does that matter for our health?
  2. How can we leverage hospitality to get to A+ delivery?

Healthcare’s Customer Service Problem

Good customer service is about more than a friendly front desk — it’s about servicing the customer. It’s the implementation of features that make the service easier, more efficient, more effective, more transparent, more personalized, and overall better to use.

Bad Service Is Bad For You, Too

Without good systems for delivery, health outcomes suffer. If we walk through the patient experience under the traditional fee-for-service model, we can see where service falls short, and how that impacts our health:

  1. Take the appointment: This is a more contained version of the above. Taking the appointment in three weeks means taking the bet that your symptom won’t significantly worsen in that time. The bet that your cough doesn’t progress into bronchitis, that rash doesn’t spread, or the injury that should be immobilized just gets way more painful. If I’m calling my doctor, I usually don’t have a symptom I’m interested in waiting weeks to sort out. Which is how so many of us end up going with Option 3.
  2. Opt for urgent care: If primary care is the produce section, urgent care is the frozen foods aisle. Frozen may be faster, but fresh is better. Unfortunately, quick fixes don’t yield better outcomes and lead to unnecessary treatment.⁸ Urgent care also pulls patients out from their continuum of care. Since notes from those visits rarely end up getting back to the PCP, a patient’s health narrative ends up being told across different files in different places, allowing important information to slip through the cracks.

Healthcare Hospitality

In Setting The Table, legendary restaurateur Danny Meyer, who I have always maintained would run the best hospital, says, “Hospitality is present when something happens for you. It is absent when something happens to you.”¹³ If the problem of A+ delivery can be described as flipping the switch from “need” to “want”, perhaps the solution can be found in flipping the switch from “to” to “for”.

  • Help set clear expectations. This is not a subway track — if we’re running a few minutes behind, nobody wins when we keep that information to ourselves.
  • Be an active, empathetic listener. Each case is a medical investigation. Ask good questions to get good clues. No detail is too small — if the patient didn’t think it was important, she wouldn’t have brought it up.
  • Visit notes aren’t just for the doctor. Everyone who interacts with a patient throughout a visit should be taking notes on patient preferences and needs. A patient who is squeamish around needles should never have to tell us this more than once.
  • Be an agent, not a gatekeeper. “An agent makes things happen for others. A gatekeeper sets up barriers to keep people out.”¹⁴ If a patient has a good reason to be asking you to break one of our rules, and you have a way to break it (within the bounds of the law, obviously), then just break it.
  • Surprise and delight. How can you make this the best interaction of someone’s day? Don’t limit your creativity to the confines of a traditional doctor’s office. If a patient is spending a part of her actual birthday at the doctor’s office, there’s no reason we can’t get some balloons involved.
  1. Employer-based health care was a wartime accident, Stephen Mihm, The Chicago Tribune.
  2. Customer First Healthcare,” Bill Gurley, Above the Crowd. (“While it seems normal to us, the use of the employer as a key constituent in providing consumer healthcare coverage is quite rare and not used in any other industrialized nation.”)
  3. Direct Primary Care is the future of health, Nick Soman, Medium.
  4. Customer First Healthcare,” Bill Gurley, Above the Crowd.
  5. Patients’ №1 complaint? Front-desk staff, Kelly Gooch, Becker’s Hospital Review.
  6. How long are new patients waiting to see a doctor?, Erin Dietsche, MedCity News.
  7. For millennials, a regular visit to the doctor’s office is not a primary concern, Sandra G. Goodman, The Washington Post. (“A recent report in JAMA Internal Medicine found that nearly half of patients who sought treatment at an urgent care clinic for a cold, the flu or a similar respiratory ailment left with an unnecessary and potentially harmful prescription for antibiotics, compared with 17 percent of those seen in a doctor’s office.”)
  8. Time Allocation in Primary Care Office Visits, NCBI.
  9. Don’t Visit Your Doctor in the Afternoon, Jeffrey A. Linder, The New York Times.
  10. Up to 40 percent of annual deaths from each of five leading US causes are preventable, CDC.
  11. Primary care physicians and specialists as personal physicians, NCBI. (Patients with a PCP spend 33% less on healthcare, and experience lower mortality rates than those who only see specialists.)
  12. Setting The Table, Danny Meyer.
  13. Setting The Table, Danny Meyer.

Co-Founder at The Lanby