1988 to 2012 – SAME “Hospital Patient Experience

I was recently hospitalized in a wonderful medical facility in New York City for the same surgery I had there in 1988.  The medical technology and level of patient care had surely changed and improved since 1988 but the “experience” of being a “Hospital Patient” hadn’t changed at all but for an upgrade in Patient Room Televisions.  That myopic “patient-centric” way of thinking reminded me of what my parents told me when they were kind enough to “buy” me my first car in college which was a beat-up 10 year-old hand-me-down vehicle with 120,000 miles on it: “Son, with a new pair of front tires, this car will be as good as new!”

Hospital Patients are now Business Customers

The challenge for hospitals from a patient perspective or the task-at-hand with hospitals who claim they are “patient-centric” is that they need to start perceiving Patients as Customers because their motivation for patient-centric ideas should be repeat business, positive word-of-mouth and staving off competition.  Otherwise, whatever is done to improve the hospital patient experience will come across just like the BS speech I was given about my “new” hand-me-down car. Based on my experiences from having been hospitalized over 200 times at several different hospitals over the past 25 years, it is therefore my contention that the “Hospital Patient Experience” needs to be substantially modernized so that it is reasonably commensurate with the technological advancements made in the area of increasing the quality of Patient Care.

But, in Hospitals, optimizing the “Hospital Patient Experience” is not any one person’s job or responsibility so there’s no accountability and the touchstone for all healthcare executives remains the quality of patient care.   This is not a bad objective in a “healthcare vacuum” but now in a much more competitive climate the patient is a true customer and the most successful businesses treat their customers the way they would want to be treated.  Whenever I am hospitalized, this responsibility always falls on my Nurse but he or she is understandably way too busy with their medical responsibilities to make a dent in the quality of my experience.  As per a new Twitter friend of mine Tim C. Nicholson (@timbigfish) said during a recent “Health Care Social Media” [“hcsm”] TweetChat, Hospitals should evolve into hiring “Patient Experience Managers” or PEMs.  I responded by tweeting I’d faint if I ever encountered such a PEM specialist in a hospital during my lifetime; but it would be a superb development.

How Hospitals can feel like Prisons

Unfortunately, my 2012 surgery, through no one’s fault, had many ups and downs so I was incarcerated “doin’ time” for 16 days and 17 nights.  Seriously, it literally felt like I was living in a prison not knowing when I’d get out or what I was to do there except watch repeats of “Law & Order” on the patient room’s upgraded television.  All the while, my doctors, nurses and various medical professionals diligently worked on me utilizing the latest technological tools and techniques.  However, after they were done, I still had approximately 22 hours each day to myself.  My doctors recommended that I walk around the hospital floor to ease the surgical pain and to “get things moving” inside of me.  Ever the obedient patent, I walked for what seemed like miles from one hospital Unit Floor to the next wheeling around my IV Pole which had various machines attached to it for the purposes of infusing different medications into me.  But without visitors on a given day, all I did was listen to my iPod and walk around the different areas of the hospital. With 22 hours of this type of free patient time, there has to be opportunities to enhance both the “patient experience” and the hospital’s patient-centric efforts.

After walking for the length of three (3) or four (4) 30-minute Podcasts, this left 20 hours of time to kill and this is when the “Hospital Patient Experience” feels most like being in Prison.  Call me crazy, but this seemingly close association with the ultimate penalty in our Penal System, can’t be good for the marketing of hospitals or for healthcare marketing in general.  In any event, and not that I know personally, but I’ve been told that in prison, where people are simply “doing time,” the incarcerated criminals use those 20 hours to exercise in the yard, socialize with other prisoners, congregate to watch movies, develop “shivs” for protection or to use to kill other inmates, etc.  I wasn’t crazy about some of my hospital roommates but my displeasure never rose to the level of trying to mold the hospital’s plastic dinner utensils into some type of shiv.  Seriously, with no thinking whatsoever besides security, prisons often offer more patient-centric activities than hospitals.  Is it just me, or is that beyond bizarre?

The Necessary Changes that will improve the “Hospital Patient Experience”

Hospitals are always looking for ways to say they are “patient-centric” but that’s like a supposedly beautiful woman constantly telling people how beautiful she is.  I will know how beautiful she is with my own eyes and the more she proclaims her pulchritude (I have been waiting YEARS to get that word into a story!) the less I believe it.  The same is true with hospitals and patients.

First off, hospitals must start perceiving patients as customers and in the process plan for repeat business, word-of-mouth referred customers and competition from other hospitals and “doc in a box” clinics.

Secondly, as part of this new approach, the various medical professionals in the hospital must LISTEN to patients so long as they are succinct and respectful of that professional’s time.

Thirdly, hospitals should STOP focusing on the phrase “patient-centric” as part of their marketing campaign or as a way of describing a particular hospital because it comes across like a Dunkin’ Donuts Store proclaiming they are “Donut-Centric.”  It’s a given, so hospitals must focus on what else sets them apart from other medical institutions.

Lastly, the most obvious change needed is for hospitals to modernize the “Hospital Patient Experience” to the point where it is commensurate with the cutting-edge medical care provided to its patients because of constant upgrades in technology and research.

Social Media is the most efficient Tool to improve the “Hospital Patient Experience”

The advent and proliferation of Social Media seems tailor-fit to help hospitals ease into the necessary transformation from Patient to Customer.  I just worry when hospital executives or so-called social media experts or consultants start touting “ROI” or “Return on Investment” as a consideration in the implementation of a Social Media strategy to help enhance the “Hospital Patient Experience” when posting Videos on a YouTube channel is free and utilizing a Facebook, Twitter, Google+ or Tumblr account is also free.  Yes, there is a cost for the people devising and managing these social media campaigns but it is negligible given the transformative powers these social media platforms possess.

In my humble opinion, the use, objective and importance of Social Media is different in a Hospital than it is in a typical Medical Professional office setting because being hospitalized for even a few days requires Lodging, Food, Socializing and the possibly of being ostracized from the outside world.   Therefore, I think practicing physicians in office settings need not be concerned with creating social media content for their practices or alternatively creating opportunities for their patients to communicate with them via different social media platforms.  Perhaps I am old-fashioned, but I just want my doctors to be as educated as possible on the newest treatments and then to provide them to me in a manner that is professional and pleasant.  My expectations for hospitals, however, are much different as I have explained above.

Formation of a Hospital YouTube Channel as an Example of a Social Media Tool

YouTube is becoming increasingly important because our society’s attention-span is getting shorter and shorter such that the passive communication medium of Video is preferred over reading by most people.  For the same reasons people want to get their news by watching CNN or “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart,” patients and their families would likely respond to video hospital communications. Moreover, placing videos on YouTube and organizing them by channel is FREE so, besides the costs of filming and personnel, YouTube offers hospitals an inexpensive marketing tool and simply by creating a Hospital YouTube Channel the hospital will be associated with a “cool factor” for participating in what has become the world’s virtual “common meeting area.”  Patients will also relate to the cutting-edge effort made by the hospital to try and make their patients feel more at home.  Accordingly, at a quick glance, creating a Hospital YouTube Channel has many advantages.

Content of a Hospital YouTube Channel

In terms of the particular content to place on a Hospital YouTube Channel, I defer to the creativity of each hospital but as a start I think it should include short “organic” or natural videos from the various medical professionals throughout the hospital so patients know who does what within the hospital environment.  In the process, patients will become more comfortable in that hospital environment.  This is significant since many chronic patients may be hospitalized for weeks or months and this type of familiarity with the hospital environment could help stave off the depression which understandably accompanies long hospital stays.  I think the hospital videos made by the Medical Professionals must also be made from their personal perspectives emphasizing their job responsibilities in a humanistic manner as if to seek a human connection with the patient.  The same way “Patients are People,” so are Medical Professionals.  These types of short videos should include contributions from a Resident, Intern, Chief Resident, Attending Physician, Covering Physician, Hospitalist, Floor Nurse, Charge Nurse, Patient Care Associate, Nurse Practitioner, Physician’s Assistants, etc.  Additionally, perhaps an executive from the hospital could explain what happens on holidays and weekends in terms of medical coverage since those are times which experienced patients have come to dread.  The practice of Pain Management should also be explained from the perspective of its availability, how a patient can initiate it and how these hospital physicians might interact with a patient’s Private Pain Management Physician.   Naturally, Emergency Hospital Evacuation Plans should also be explained.

These Hospital YouTube Channels should also include Patient Testimonials during which patients can contribute their thoughts regarding their hospital experiences, their hospital roommates, what they miss most about being hospitalized, what they can’t wait to do when they get out of the hospital, etc.  Patients should be approached by hospital executives with Flip Cameras when they are utilizing the 22 hours I mentioned above, i.e., while they are walking round the Unit Floor as part of their post-operative recuperation.   Patients should also have access in their room to a simpler way of notifying hospital executives that they would like to contribute a Testimonial to the Hospital’s YouTube Channel.  Patients should never be promised that their contributions will be aired because there will always be an editing process and while the hospital should most definitely post unflattering videos if they are well-reasoned and seemingly a patient’s true and intelligently articulated opinion, the hospital cannot guarantee that all patient content will be aired due to reasonable standards of taste and style.

The goal of all YouTube channel videos, however, should be to humanize the “Hospital Patient Experience.”  By doing that, I can then make the argument that these YouTube efforts towards modernizing the “Hospital Patient Experience” are now commensurate with the perpetual positive contribution of technology and research to improved patient care.

Bringing the Hospital’s YouTube Channel into the Patient Room

During a recent “Health Care Social Media” TweetChat a thoughtful participant asked me about how this YouTube idea could be utilized by an 85 year old Patient?  I thought: “good question with an easy answer.”  After all, hospitals need to update those looped 1950s-styled videos presently on the televisions in patient rooms.  Let’s face it, we no longer need to see how Mr. Main Street Doctor performs a colonoscopy or what open heart surgery looks like – especially when the videos look like they came directly out of the TV Show “Mash” as if they were filmed sometime around the Korean War!  Accordingly, Hospital YouTube Channels should be piped into EVERY patient room and even looped on a channel just like the aforementioned brutally boring shows so that 85 year-old patients will be entertained, engaged and informed.


The power of Video and modern technology is at a stage where it can make a meaningful difference in the “Hospital Patient Experience” and for the most part, it is FREE.  “ROI” analysis needs to be replaced, at least at this infancy stage of Social Media, with applications of Logic and Humanity.  Finally, hospitals who don’t take advantage of this relatively easy opportunity to balance the quality of the “Hospital Patient Experience” with the expensive research and technology-driven increased quality of Patient Care have no business calling themselves “Patient-Centric” when the term “Prison” is more apropos.