My family and I recently spent a couple of Spring Break days at Disneyland and at a movie studio theme park. There were rides galore, some of which were not so friendly to this 66 year old’s vestibular system. Now I understand those folks sitting on benches near ride exits, patiently waiting for their laughing grandkids to emerge from stomach churning “attractions.”
As someone passionate about the patient experience, though, I was most struck by the different customer experiences the two parks offered. There is a warmth at Disney that you just don’t experience at the studio park. Disney’s grounds are meticulously maintained and spotless, with nary a stray scrap of paper to be found. The restroom facilities are plentiful and immaculately clean. At the other place, not so much.
But by far the biggest difference was the attitudes of the employees at the two parks. Everyone at Disney, from the people manning the rides to the servers in the restaurants to the security personnel to the groundskeepers, were unfailingly warm, friendly, and helpful. Any employee would try to accommodate any request, regardless of their job. They cared that we had the best possible Disney experience.
At the other park there were certainly some friendly employees, but we felt we were being herded onto rides by people who’d done it thousands of times already and who had seen so many strangers’ faces that ours just blended in. The rides were fun, but there was no feeling of dedication, happiness, commitment, or even loyalty transmitted to the visitors.
Why should this be, and why should it matter to health care providers in particular?
First, of course, is the Disney ethos, which harkens back to a supposedly simpler time with all the attendant warmth and nostalgia for the wonders of childhood. “Here you leave today and enter the world of yesterday, tomorrow and fantasy,” reads a plaque over the entrance to Disneyland. There is also the appeal of long-time beloved characters: I’d suggest Mickey evokes more warmth than Transformers.
However, I think that the most important difference is that the Disney people believe that the best way to give their customers a great experience is for their “cast members”—as all their employees are called—to consciously give their best performances. That means that when they are in the park, they are always “on.” They are the best possible version of themselves in the roles they are playing, be it a cartoon character, a train conductor, a ride technician, or a groundskeeper.
Okay, so what does this have to do with being a doctor, a nurse, a pharmacist, an administrator, or anyone who deals directly with patients? When we are performing those roles, we need to be the very best version of them we can for our patients. Our best physician self. Our best nursing supervisor self. Our best radiology technician self. Our best housekeeper self. Our best patient experience officer self.
Our patients don’t know us personally; they only know us as we present ourselves to them in the healthcare setting, so why shouldn’t that be the very best we can be? Regardless if we are running late, or are overworked, or are worried about the mortgage. Just as an actor puts her personal issues aside when she assumes a role on stage, so we can become our best provider selves when we are with our patients.
The magic of medicine happens when a provider and a patient are face-to-face, one human being to another. That is the moment of connection. That is when the healing begins. That’s when we need to be “on,” to be the best version of ourselves in our healthcare roles. That is when we need to perform at our best.