Patient Experience: Can it be dumber than a bowl of mice?

I heard the bookies in Las Vegas are offering odds on the date and time for the first terrorist attack during the Winter Olympics.  “Why can’t we all just get along?”

Changing how the world thinks may be more difficult than simple changing the world.  Sometimes it would be easier to teach Hindu to a beagle.  Sometimes you have to stand on your own shoulders to be heard.  If the issue under consideration seems up for grabs, sometimes style points can make a difference—the judge from East Germany scores the routine 8.75.

When one assesses patient experience, it seems like a lot of people do things wrong, but they do things wrong, but they do wrong right. 

Case in point.

The air was getting cool. When the air gets cool you buy a winter coat. When you buy a winter coat, pretty soon it snows.  When it snows things get complicated. When things get complicated, and you happen to be out of town, your flight gets cancelled.  When your flight gets cancelled you do not make it home. When you do not make it home you do not get your mail.  When you do not get your mail you do not get your invitation to the World Economic Forum in Davos.  When you do not get your invitation to Davos, somebody else has to take over your job; someone else has to wash the dishes.  When someone else has to wash the dishes, some dishes do not get washed.  When some dishes do not get washed, the prima donnas get upset.  And, when the prima donnas get upset, the world’s economy goes in the toilet.  I have missed the last seven meetings in Davos, and I am starting to feel bad about the state of the economy.

Patient experience.  I attended a gala last night for an organization of which my wife is a board member.  At the event I was introduced by a member of the board of directors at an eminent Philadelphia hospital to a woman who is on the board of two eminent Philadelphia hospitals.  The board member I know told her fried “you really need to talk to Paul about what he is doing to help hospitals improve patient experience.”

Yada yada.  The board lady and I talked; well sort of. Just to keep me from reliving an awful experience, I’ll just hit the highlights.  I went to the netherworld and suggested that patients are also customers, that customers are an organization’s assets.

The board member started hanging strands of garlic from her neck, and she withdrew a mallet and wooden stake from her purse.  Any aspirations I had about her ability to see the bigger picture escaped through the bell tower’s window.  “Welcome to the nineties Mr. Banks”—Father of the Bride.

“We do not have customers, we have patients.  Our Patients are not the hospital’s assets,” she bellowed.

I wanted to ask, “Are you a good witch or a bad witch?” 

I have often used those close to me as a barometer.  They are the people who tell me “Take twenty-four hours before you respond.  Do not be so quick to give them a piece of your mind because you may not have enough left after you give it.”

My initial reaction was to tell the board member that I had been more challenged intellectually by a bowl of mice, to tell her that she was both rude and ignorant.  Instead I bit my tongue, hoping she would come to the same conclusion on her own.

The air was getting cool—we did this part earlier.  The hairs on my arms stood on end.  When the hairs on my arm stand on end it means something bad is about to happen.  When something bad is about to happen I try to suss it out.  When the hairs on your arm stand on end, you may be having a conversation with someone whose intellect is below that of the intellect of a bowl of mice.

When that happens, it means that the person with whom you are speaking is misguided.  When someone is misguided it means they have no notion of how healthcare has changed.  When someone has no notion of how healthcare has changed it means they should not hold a strategic position.

The board member repeated her point, “We have patients, not customers. Our patients are not customers and they are not assets.”

I finished the conversation by telling her, “Using your strategy, you will be proven correct. In a few years they will neither be your customers nor your assets.  They will be the customers and assets of another hospital.”

6 thoughts on “Patient Experience: Can it be dumber than a bowl of mice?

  1. “When someone has no notion of how healthcare has changed it means they should not hold a strategic position.”

    Hi Paul,

    You are correct. I think the above is key. I would say most medical providers have no concept of patient engagement nor does the government. EHRs and meaningful use 1 and 2 are governments measures of patient engagement–what a load of crock! Meaningful use is meant to benefit unknown research at well-connected institutions rather than benefit patient-customers.

    Nice article revealing pettifogging policies and decisions in medicine–people with no clue focusing on petty details to develop policies and decisions about our colossal, and often, hideously discriminatory medical delivery system. These well-connected inchoate folks with limited understanding of the world of medicine craft policies based on symptoms, not underlying causes; consequently, we end up with minutiae.



  2. Paul, great post. I came across this on a Google alert and commend you for the candor (and a delicious sense of humor) in calling the kettle black. If it is any consolation, hospitals aren’t the only industry that doesn’t “get” the customer. I would like to see the Hindu speaking beagle 🙂


  3. Paul…
    Again you put the ball over the fence. I never tire of reading your humorous insights of encounters you fall pray to among those who simply will not allow that large and small healthcare organizations are subject to the same rules of business as every other business. Fail to understand this rather obvious insight and bad things will generally follow.

    Mike Rink


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