Administration and Leadership, Operations, Patient Care

Guests: Disney Does it Better

Issue 10 and Volume 33.

For years, most of us have followed the lead of nurses and physicians, referring to sick people as “patients.” Why do we do that? Personally, I don’t see why sick people should have to be patient about anything we can fix (like pain, for instance). We’ve talked about that several times in this column over the years, and many of us honestly think of patients (who happen to pay our salaries and own our equipment) as customers.

Working in people’s homes, cars and businesses, it’s probably easier to see them as customers than it might be in a medical facility. Clearly, we’re on their turf. Even on their worst days, I think that gives them more of a sense of control over their situation. It’s frustrating for us when they refuse needles, drugs and destinations, but they know they can do it. They also seem to know they can summon us any time, then tell us to go away. Of course, that all ends once they enter an institution, like a hospital. That’s where they really do have to become patients.

Maybe it’s time we started thinking of people as guests, instead. Walt Disney taught his first employees this lesson more than 50 years ago; and if you visit any Disney theme park today, you’ll still be addressed, welcomed, treated and referred to as a guest. That’s not a Goofy idea. Decent hotels have always treated their customers as guests. I’m writing this article in the lounge of a Toyota dealership, waiting for some service on my little red truck. (Me and the bank are real proud of that truck.) Guess what the folks here call their customers. Yup, guests. So far, they’ve offered me coffee and donuts, an armchair or a nice couch, a Wi-Fi connection and my choice of two newspapers. I feel like a big shot!

Think about this. What did your mom teach you to offer every guest? Hospitality! (See the word “hospital” in there?) Hospitality should seem totally familiar to people who run hospitals. But sadly, so many administrators learned it only after being brought to their knees by an organization called JCAHO (which had to treat many of them for severe dysarthria in the process).

Want to see something odd? Log on to the Web and search for the home pages of some famous hospitals (like the Mayo Clinic, the UCLA Medical Center and Johns Hopkins). Those institutions didn’t attain their notoriety by magic; they did so because their medicine is outstanding. But look at their Web sites, and you’ll see imposing buildings detailed in marble, glass and stainless steel. Just buildings, though, no people. They look like corporate headquarters, don’t they? I even looked up some of my local hospitals, and sure enough: Just buildings, no people. They’re anything but inviting.

Now, look up Disneyland. In every photo of Sleeping Beauty’s Castle, you’ll see people everywhere. In fact, the same is true of every view of the park. See, the focus is completely different.

The truth is, whether their administrators realize it or not, hospitals can’t exist without people any more than Disneyland can. And neither can we.

So, how do you offer hospitality in an ambulance? Once more, recall how your mom prepared your home for guests. Chances are, she had you help her clean the place from top to bottom. She taught you to welcome them once they arrived, introduce yourself, take their coats, show them around, and offer them refreshments and a comfortable place to relax. If she was a great hostess, she made sure they had her full attention every minute they were there. When they left, she brought them their coats, and walked them to their cars. Maybe she even wished them a safe ride home and invited them to return.

Of course, some of those particulars wouldn_t apply to an emergency callƒbut a sanitary environment does, and so does a position of comfort, climate control, protection from the weather and exclusion from public view, attention to fear, relief of pain and reassurance that everything possible is being handled by someone who’s calm, competent and concerned. The same is true of a smooth, safe ride and an overall sense of being welcome.

I know. That’s a tall order when somebody is scared half to death and maybe they’re not even being nice to you. But if this were easy, any fool could do it. –JEMS