As the patient experience moves to the forefront of healthcare delivery, what are the hospitality systems, processes and knowledge that might enhance customer outcomes in the healthcare sector? EHL, no. 1 in the hospitality school rankings, is committed to crossing boundaries and creating bridges via transferable skills at a time when interdisciplinary learning is more in demand than ever before.
Despite the inescapable fact that a patient rarely chooses to be in hospital whereas a guest at a hotel usually does, there are a myriad of important similarities between the two sectors. Whether patient or guest, both contexts involve a 'journey' based on a welcome at reception, being accompanied to a room or bed, information on formalities and facilities - all processes whose successful outcome depends on caring, attentive interpersonal exchanges.
Research suggests that the more personal the care a patient receives in hospital, the higher that patient’s satisfaction. In an environment that can easily become depersonalized, it's important to factor emotional reaction into the structure, process and outcome of healthcare services.
Dr Loyhd Terrier, Associate Professor of Organizational Behavior at EHL, answers questions on the ever-growing relationship between hospitality and healthcare, with an accent on what the former can help bring to the latter in terms of customer care and satisfaction. The time is now for hospitality to externalise its expertise in all areas relating to service excellence and optimising the customer experience. It is a precious resevoir of knowledge that can serve many other sectors of industry.
1. What is the main intersection between hospitality and healthcare?
The pursuit of customer or patient satisfaction, without a doubt. Indeed, like the modern guest, the modern patient has higher expectations regarding the quality of service in healthcare. Freedom of choice, possibilities to compare services, opinions available on different internet platforms, the healthcare field, like the hospitality one, is becoming more and more competitive.
If you could be treated better and have a more satisfying experience for an equal price and quality of care, what choice would you make? Just as a comfortable bed is no longer enough to ensure guest satisfaction, reliable medical service is now only part of the patient experience. Increased attention to the needs expressed, greater service personalization, better service at every interaction with the institution are the challenges facing today's hospitality and healthcare industries.
Hospitality and hospital are close concepts; they both refer to care, and attention. The fact that these two areas are related is not surprising because they finally share the same objective: to meet the guest's or patient's needs.
2. What can the medical industry learn from hospitality?
In the context of health care, the service dimension has gained greater importance in recent years. For example, we know that service needs are among the most highly expressed by patients, but also among those that they consider to be the least well handled by hospitals.
This question of service has been a central dimension in the reception area for a long time. As such, hospitality training courses enable future hospitality professionals to develop soft skills that will allow them to deliver better service quality. Indeed, beyond the tangible aspects of service (i.e., food quality, size of rooms, level of comfort), it is the quality of human interaction that will make the difference between good service and exceptional service.
These interactions are even more important in healthcare because the patient's level of uncertainty is high, and their ability to evaluate different medical devices' performance is limited. Therefore, the patient's reference point will be above all the interaction with the medical staff. Softs skills are essential in the hospitality field, and they are becoming increasingly more critical in the healthcare field. The human exchange involved in a patient's pre-admission, check-in, stay, discharge and post-stay follow-up should be based on an affective model that is taught especially well in hospitality education.
Other important tools in the hospitality sector, such as the customer journey concept, could allow better patient management by identifying the different touchpoints between the healthcare center and the patient. Indeed, we know that the customer's experience starts well before their stay at the hotel. Here again, the parallel with the healthcare sector is evident. From making an appointment to post-intervention follow-up, there are many similarities between the patient's journey and the guest's journey. The hospitality field has already theorized and implemented a set of tools and methods to improve the customer journey. The transfer of these skills to the healthcare sector is essential for its future.
3. In what ways can a patient in a hospital be compared to a guest in a hotel or restaurant?
In a study published last year in the journal Social Forces, several thousand patients were surveyed to determine which elements most strongly determined their satisfaction during a hospital stay. Of course, the quality of care was one of the elements to be taken into account. However, it was far from being the element that patients attached the most importance to. Indeed, other elements more easily linked to customer satisfaction in a hospitality setting were in the top positions. For example, the quality of interactions with staff or having a quiet room was considered far more important than the care quality in determining patient satisfaction!
The quality of interactions and reception has long been considered crucial to guest satisfaction, and more and more research shows that the same is true for patient satisfaction. As surprising as it may be, this finding is easily explained. For most patients, assessing the quality of care or the medical staff's technical skills is not obvious. Once my appendicitis operation is completed, I might not be able to assess the quality of the suture or whether the dosage of anesthesia was exceptional. On the other hand, I will easily evaluate if the staff was empathetic or if the information given to me allowed me to understand the situation better.
In other words, when the patients have to determine their level of satisfaction, they base it on the elements that make sense to them, and that may or may not have allowed them to have a satisfactory experience. Thus, it is finally not so surprising to note that the drivers of satisfaction in reception and healthcare are quite similar.
4. Why do you think hospitals have become increasingly concerned with patient satisfaction measures?
Hospitals, like all sectors, are now facing increasing competition. Thus, beyond the physician's choice, patients are placing increasing importance on the context in which their care journey will take place. Quality of listening, personalization of care, or simply the degree of privacy offered by the infrastructure can influence the choice of one healthcare institution over another.
Similarly, a more satisfied patient will find it easier to follow the recommendations of a physician whom he or she values and trusts. And, not surprisingly, following the recommendations will have a significant impact on the patient's health and may, in part, determine the physician's performance. There are many reasons to focus on patient satisfaction, from both economic and health aspects.
5. Do you think that developing hotel-like amenities in a hospital could distract from its main mission to deliver excellent healthcare?
Improving service quality in healthcare does not mean changing the hospital's core mission to improve patient health. It is important to emphasize that providing hotel-like amenities does not hurt the client's health or the medical practice. In fact, such amenities' primary purpose is to improve client satisfaction during their stay in the facility. Therefore, as stated earlier, anything contributing to improving the patient's quality of life during their stay in hospital is unlikely to hurt their health. Thus, by enhancing patient care, particularly through the implementation of hotel-like amenities, the hospital focuses on its core mission rather than deviating from it.
EHL & CHUV collaboration
In November 2020, EHL welcomed 20 nurses and midwives from the Lausanne University Hospital (CHUV) to train them in the art of affective hospitality and service excellence. « The CHUV nurses and midwives discovered another world of service and customer excellence: hospitality, as taught by the EHL experts» commented Nicholas Jayet, CHUV Communications Director.
EHL Graduate School is currently developing new programs as part of a broader focus on service excellence and customer focus across various sectors of industry.