I recently visited Disney World with my preschool age daughter. I was impressed. For starters, I had a smart band on my wrist that let me skip lines, open doors, and pay for things with a wave. Disney has invested $1 billion in that wristband and the services connected to it.
Though Disney’s use of technology was a highpoint, it only works so well because it is an extension of the values and design principles on which Disney’s parks and company are built. Here are 5 ways healthcare could borrow some of Disney’s magic…
1. Put the Customer (or Patient) First
There’s no question at Disney that the customer is at the center. Ubiquitous staff members are on hand to answer questions, and rides, hotels, restaurants, and even waiting areas are designed to keep guests occupied and enter
tained, especially if they happen to be kids. Crayons, stickers, bubbles, movies and snacks are employed to lessen the pain of any delays.By contrast, when I call the doctor I usually get routed into a phone tree (in itself a problem) with a recording that caters to doctors first, unless of course you’re having a medical emergency, in which case you are instructed to call someone else. That kind of message gives me the impression that the practice doesn’t much care about me as a patient, but that they want to cover themselves so I won’t sue them. And don’t even get me started on healthcare and its treatment of consumers when it comes to paying the bills or the lack of emphasis on what really matters to most of us: health outcomes.
2.) Make it Seamless
On my way to Disney World, I checked my suitcase at my home airport and didn’t see it again until I reached my hotel. Thank you! Further, while my daughter couldn’t have convinced me to buy and carry a large, plush pig pillow while maneuvering a stroller for roughly seven miles in the course of a day, since I could have it delivered directly to my hotel, I went for it.
Meanwhile, in health world, I have to fill out the same information about myself repeatedly on multiple clipboards. Oh, and my doctors frequently don’t share my medical records with each other or me. And my insurance company often doesn’t cover what I need, or warn me that they’re not going to… you know the drill.
3.) Let Customers (or Patients) Participate
On the whole my trip was easy. And that’s saying a lot for a solo adventure with a pre-schooler. Prior to traveling, I set up an online Disney account and made some reservations (I was also able to update them after arrival, using live data on wait times and locations of attractions from an app on my phone). For my daughter and me, a ride on Splash Mountain and a meeting with Tinkerbell made the short list. Whew. Locked in.
The way Disney engages its guests to identify their priorities and build a schedule is masterful. It reminds me, in the healthcare context, of the concept of “cognitive surplus” from Clay Shirky’s book in which he argues that the brain power and knowledge of patients, who are ultimately the most invested in good healthcare outcomes, should be harnessed to improve healthcare. Today patients should indeed be using technology including wearables and smartphone apps to collect and share information about their own priorities and behaviors that can help providers to support them and build customized healthcare experiences to meet their unique preferences.
4.) Flatten the Hierarchy
At Disney, every bus driver and street sweeper gives the impression of enjoying and being valued for his or her contributions. At Disney, mere cooks become “Pastry Artisans”.
The world of healthcare tends to be among the most hierarchical, with strict pecking orders among doctors, nurses, and other staff. This hierarchical atmosphere is, I think, part of what contributes to the traditional cultural and communication gap between doctors and patients. I believe outcomes would improve if all parties, including patients and families, were valued as participants in contributing information and solving problems together.
Here a “Custodial Cast Member” creates performance art for guests to enjoy: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rCLtJdWG9IY
5.) Don’t be Afraid to Have Fun
Healthcare is serious business. Having, say, an operation, tends to be significantly less enjoyable than a family vacation. And health and healthcare of course involve suffering, loss, and even death. But the very fact that healthcare touches our lives at the most meaningful moments, including birth and death, is good reason for it to be more human. Isn’t it a shame that the word “clinical” has come to mean “unemotional” and “coldly detached”?
The Children’s Hospital at Monetfiore in New York is one example of a healthcare institution that has embraced the kind of joy and creativity Disney employs in its parks in building an environment and experience for its customers. It has themed areas related to space and nature intended to entertain and inspire customers. It would be great if more healthcare institutions could embrace a joyful and even playful approach to business as usual.
Disney is a fairly closed system, while the healthcare system and the economics underlying it are larger and more complex: consumers and patients usually don’t pay the bills directly, but that is changing with higher deductible insurance plans. And health reform is shifting payment from pay-for-volume to pay-for–performance. Already healthcare service providers are becoming more transparent about pricing and outcomes, and treating consumers and patients more like customers in a positive sense.
In this time of rapid healthcare transformation, why not continue to look outside for inspiration and perhaps a few specks of pixie dust?