The Hospital Steve Jobs Would Have Built

The Hospital Steve Jobs Would Have Built
March 26 01:00 2014

The Hospital Steve Jobs Would Have Built

If the Apple Store opened a hospital it would look like the Walnut Hill Medical Center in Dallas.

On Thursday the ribbon will be cut and the doors will open on the new $100 million, eight-story full service hospital. Although I have no financial interest in the facility, I do have a keen personal interest. About 18 months ago a cardiologist who sits on the executive management board contacted me to discuss their plans to “reimagine health care and the patient experience” with concepts inspired by my book, The Apple Experience: Secrets to Building Insanely Great Customer Loyalty. The techniques that Steve Jobs and the Apple Store used to reinvent the retail experience can be applied to any leader who wants to engage employees, raise satisfaction, and radically transform the customer experience. Health care is no different.

“Enhancing the patient experience has now become an increasingly important goal for virtually all the hospitals in the country. They are all waking up to the fact that the quality of their customer experience will impact their bottom line,” according to Dr. Rich Guerra at Walnut Hill. Here are seven specific lessons Walnut Hill took from the Steve Jobs playbook; lessons that can help you reimagine your own business.

Look outside your industry for inspiration. Most companies copy competitors. True innovators are creative because they “steal” ideas from completely different fields and apply them to their own industry. Steve Jobs applied what he learned about calligraphy to create the Macintosh, the first computer to give the world beautiful fonts and typefaces. The Apple Store was inspired by a company outside of the computer industry—The Ritz-Carlton. Have you ever visited the Genius “bar” in the back of an Apple Store? It was directly inspired by a visit to the luxury hotel.

Walnut Hill is also studying best practices from outside its industry and applying the lessons to the healthcare environment. In addition to studying the Apple Store, Walnut Hill leaders cite lessons from Starbucks, Virgin, Zappos, the UCLA Medical Center, and, yes, the Ritz-Carlton.

Start with the right vision. Your vision will lead to a specific set of results. A former Apple Store executive told me the vision of the Apple Store was never to “sell stuff.” Instead the vision was to “enrich lives.” When you start with the vision to enrich lives, magical things happen. The official vision statement at Walnut Hill Medical Center is “to improve health and enrich lives through partnership, compassion and acts of kindness, every person, every time.”

Hire people with an aptitude for service. The Apple Store likes to say it hires for personality as much as, if not more than, proficiency. Apple can teach anyone to talk about the features of an iPad; it can’t teach people to be passionate and friendly. Walnut Hill is taking a similar approach. Obviously in a hospital all the caregivers must have the proper training and certification. But remarkably, Walnut Hill goes further. Every candidate must take a psychological survey intended to measure “aptitude for caring and service.” The selection process is tough. Three thousand people applied for fewer than 150 positions. As one Walnut Hill leader told me, “It’s easier to get into Harvard than to be selected to work here.”

Greet customers with a warm welcome. Customers are greeted immediately upon entering an Apple Store, just as they would be when walking through the doors of a luxury hotel. At Walnut Hill the greeting will begin in the parking lot with complementary valet service staffed with employees trained to communicate with patients and their families. Once inside, visitors will encounter staff trained to follow the Ritz Carlton “15-5” rule. It simply means that a hospital staff employee will smile at you from 15 feet and greet you with a warm hello at 5 feet. When a patient enters a hospital they are often anxious, confused, and even terrified. Imagine the difference a patient will feel when he or she sees a smile and hears a friendly welcome.

Train every employee to deliver steps of service every time. Every Apple Store employee is trained to walk customers through five ‘steps of service,’ which I detailed in this Forbes column and video on the Apple Store’s “secret sauce.” The steps are spelled out in the acronym A-P-P-L-E and employees are handed wallet-sized cards to remind them of each step. At Walnut Hill all employee badges outline six steps for communicating and interacting with patients. The steps spell out the acronym W-E-C-A-R-E. For example, the fifth step—R—stands for “resolve and reassure.” In this step staff members are encouraged to own the relationship, resolve problems, and commit to reassuring the patient that they are doing all they can to help the patient get better. “Our goal is to evoke emotional connections and build relationships through these steps of service,” says Guerra.

Design spaces to make people feel better. Apple Stores are known for clean, uncluttered spaces, simple wooden tables, large windows, and the iconic glass staircase. Patients and visitors at Walnut Hill will also experience an environment designed to be aesthetically pleasing. Large windows throughout the entire hospital provide plenty of natural light and views of parks and trees. Richly colored wood and earth tones were carefully chosen for the interior to “enhance a soothing, healing environment.”

Walnut Hill Medical Center Patient Room
Walnut Hill Medical Center Patient Room

Leverage mobile technology. Apple revolutionized retail by largely doing away with cash registers and pioneering mobile point-of-sale devices attached to iPhones and iPads. In fact the iPad has transformed health care significantly, providing caregivers and patients new tools and apps to create and consume information. Patients at Walnut Hill will be given iPads loaded with videos, materials, and tools to make it easier to communicate with staff and to learn about their conditions.

In an interview with Wired, Google CEO Larry Page said that an improvement of 10 percent means that you are not that different than anybody else. “You probably won’t fail spectacularly, but you are guaranteed not to succeed wildly…Page expects his employees to create products and services that are 10 times better than the competition,” according to Wired. Walnut Hill leaders are infusing the culture with the same attitude to create a hospital unlike any other, a hospital that reimagines the patient experience. “The opportunity to develop a brand new hospital comes along once in a lifetime,” says Walnut Hill CEO, Cory Countryman. “Combining the latest in medical technology with world-class customer service, our founders felt that they could create a special place where they could improve health and enrich lives.”

Read full story at Forbes
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