Create magic, one patient at a time

Every business on earth has an angle on the market.  Business leaders around the world work tirelessly, attempting to edge out their competitors by delivering the best service to their customers. When all is said and done, physicians want to deliver the best care they can to each patient.  As medical students who are eager to serve, we are committed to examining the space where business and medicine intertwine to find new, innovative solutions to improve patient care and the patient’s overall experience.

Imagine you are working a hospital shift in Detroit. Hear the hustle and bustle associated with patients and families arriving and departing; appreciate the deafening sound of audible patients’ vital sensors from a hall of rooms. Add to it that your service is possibly short-staffed, resulting in you being tired and missing your lunch. This narrative depicts a common situation felt across the nation, resulting in a health care system that perceives customer service as idealistic, neither possible nor attainable. Given the changes the Affordable Care Act has brought, hospitals are searching for new approaches to employ customer service as it is now one marker upon which reimbursements will be calculated. Hospitals are already responding: look no further than Sloan Kettering’s new 300 million dollar cancer center slated to open in January 2016 that focuses on the patient experience.

As medical professionals, we stand to learn from successful companies like Disney, who maintain a strong focus on customer service.

To test our idea that customer service can be applied to patient care, we brought in the former vice-president of operations, Lee Cockerell, of the Walt Disney World Resort, the world’s leader in customer service and overall guest experience. Lee was going to help us to create magic one patient at a time.

Lee made the journey from his home in Orlando to Central Michigan University. His eight session, two-day visit was attended by over 3,000 eager students, faculty, and staff, as well as business and medical professionals. Twenty different campus and community organizations sponsored his visit, with three hospital systems in attendance and the option for health care professionals to get continuing medical education (CME) credit for their participation. Physicians came in person, and some from around the county joined us via live simulcast.

Our business in medicine student interest group was a founding sponsor of Lee’s visit, allowing us to host Lee for a session where he addressed medical students, physicians, CMU College of Medicine faculty, and hospital administrators on how we can incorporate the principles of Disney service in our medical careers.

“The main thing I was trying to do was maintain an environment and a culture where everybody who worked there woke up in the morning and wanted to come to work versus have to come for a paycheck.” Lee developed what he believes are the three fuels that drive human performance: appreciation, recognition, and encouragement.  Lee said, “The best way for people to know they matter — and everyone has an opportunity to do this better — is to tell them! Find opportunities to tell them.”

Lee went on to describe how the difference between management and leadership is making sure every employee understands how their role relates back to the mission of the company. “Every one of our people at Disney knows where they fit in and how they make a difference … You need to connect it in the hospital.  Everybody needs to know they’re are not a food service worker, they are not a bathroom cleaner, they are there to help save lives.” Does the custodial staff at your hospital know that clean rooms put patients and their families at ease, driving up patient satisfaction scores? Does the upper management of your hospital visit the wards and listen to staff and patient concerns, building a culture where employee’s voices are heard? Do the support personnel understand that they are the patient’s first impression as they arrive to your facility?

With this mindset, even the employees cooking french fries understand their role serves an important purpose in the overall mission of Disney World. To Lee Cockerell, making sure Disney cast members understood this, meant everything. By embracing our own roles, we set the standard to achieve an ideal patient visit. But how do we do this in an environment as we outlined in the beginning, with stressed staff and a system in transition? Lee gave us the secret: the five-second interaction.  “You (health care professional) can walk in and make it better, or you can make it worse.” If you only have a short time with a patient or family, make it memorable.

Through interviewing Walt Disney World’s seventy-five thousand cast members as well as guests to the park, Lee found that customers (and thus patients) desire the same four basic things: make me feel special, treat me as an individual, show total and complete respect to my family, have knowledgeable employees.  Providing these four simple services to your employees will create an environment where people want to come to work every day, and your patients will be provided the same services.  This concept, rather than technical competence, will ultimately separate the good physicians from the great physicians.

By embracing an attitude where we are trying to provide customer service to patients, we begin to create a culture where everyone is important, and they believe they are important. We will increase morale and efficiency, decrease mistakes, and ultimately increase positive patient outcomes.  It’s safe to say, we have found a new angle to improve health care service one patient at a time.

Nicholas Cozzi, Alex Ghannam, and Chris Khoury are medical students.

Image credit: Katherine Welles /

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