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Reshaping patient experience by bringing hospitality into the hospital

At Geisinger Health, elements from the hospitality business are helping shape new patient interactions for improved customer experience.
By admin
Sep 16, 2022, 11:54 AM

Present-day hospitals are not necessarily known for being friendly, welcoming, or accommodating. Patients normally go to the hospital when there’s something wrong, so they are often starting with a baseline of anxiety. This is made worse with a poor patient experience. Hospital campuses can be difficult to navigate, especially when patients are being bounced around between care sites or providers. And managing all of the paperwork foisted onto patients and caregivers can be frustrating and confusing. But the hospitality industry may offer ways healthcare centers can improve patient experience.

While the words “hospital” and “hospitality” come from the same Latin root—hospes, which means guesthouse—modern patients could be forgiven for doubting the relationship between the two.

At Geisinger Health System in Pennsylvania, however, organizational leaders are working hard to turn this perception around. By borrowing some high-impact ideas from their colleagues in the hospitality business, the system is aiming to reinvent patient experience from the ground up.

For example, the new $180 million Orthopedic Center Pennsylvania building, located in Buckhorn, PA, is being fully designed with patient experience in mind, from the physical lay-out of the facility to the streamlined digital experience, reported Michael Suk, MD, chair of Geisinger’s Musculoskeletal Institute and chief physician officer for Geisinger System Services.

“Over the past several years, we have seen our management evolve from isolated departments into a more collaborative model that is able to manage overall episodes of care for musculoskeletal patients,” said Suk. “We started that process with the patient perspective front and center, so because we want to enable the resources of healthcare to come to the patient, rather than the opposite.”

He noted the frustration with the traditional patient experience isn’t new. “Neither is the idea that healthcare should be more like hospitality. But we haven’t always been able to bridge those gaps. Now, we have access to a new generation of digital tools that can streamline processes and help us get where we need to go for our patients.”

A new vision of patient experience

Thinking holistically about the patient journey requires leaders to identify and understand every interaction with the health system, from finding the right provider to follow-up after surgery, and choosing the right technology or strategy to simplify that process.

Suk’s previous involvement in hospitality, from restaurant ownership to board memberships, has helped to inform his vision for a totally different patient experience.

“We are using a variety of tools to address some of the pain points in the patient experience, some of which are familiar from other consumer-focused industries,” said Suk. “For example, we’re using geofencing with patients who give consent so that when they come close to the facility, we’re already expecting them and can get their check-in process started quickly.”

Suk’s goal is to eliminate the waiting room as much as possible. “If we’re running 90 minutes behind, we want to be able to tell them that before they leave the house so they’re not sitting there, feeling like they’re wasting their time.”

Healthcare organizations need to showcase similar patient-centered thinking in a number of ways, Suk continued. They need to consider everything, from where the driveways are located to how the rooms will be designed so that providers never have their backs to their patients when they’re typing.

“Think about that popular 7:00 a.m. arrival time for surgery and how the line for valet parking is usually way down the street,” Suk said. “What if we let people park themselves, but we send a staff member to pick them up from their cars?  What if we created a ‘fast pass,’ like you might get at a hotel or a theme park, that lets you skip the front desk and check in directly to a room that is already prepared for you?  What if we used interactive displays that light up as soon as you put that keycard into the light switch to show you personalized information about your stay?”

For Suk, this is no impossible fairy tale. “These things are all possible, and they all contribute to this idea that we want to come to the patient instead of forcing the patient to figure out how to come to us. The hospital and hospitality need to be reconnected. The technologies are here, but now we need to make a philosophical shift.”

The growing power of consumerism in healthcare, paired with the continuing evolution of value-based reimbursement models, will accelerate this transition across the care continuum, he believes. As healthcare becomes more transparent and driven by patient preferences, healthcare organizations will need to look outside of the box at how other industries have coped with the increasing power of the informed consumer.

“Healthcare has the advantage of being primarily driven by the right motivations when it comes to customer experiences,” Suk said. “I think we’ll be shocked by how impactful it will be to simply pick up some of the strategies from hospitality and travel and move them into the hospital. Now that we have the technologies and some of the financial incentives available to use, it gives me a lot of hope that we can adopt some of the best parts of the service industries and make a real difference for the patient experience.”

Jennifer Bresnick is a journalist and freelance content creator with a decade of experience in the health IT industry. Her work has focused on leveraging innovative technology tools to create value, improve health equity, and achieve the promises of the learning health system.

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