Hospitals improve service benchmarking with Disney

University of Chicago Hospitals sees results

If you’ve ever been to Disney World, you know all about Disney’s legendary attention to detail. The bushes are sculptured, the trash never even seems to hit the ground, and the employees — all 52,000 of them — are eternally friendly, even if they’re wearing a Mickey Mouse head in the humid Florida heat.

Disney’s betting you can create the same kind of environment in your hospital, minus Mickey Mouse. That’s why the Disney Institute in Lake Buena Vista, FL, has started offering two health care-specific benchmarking seminars: one on the Disney approach to quality service and the other on the Disney approach to people management.

What does Goofy know about the ICU?

If Disney isn’t on the top of your list of groups to benchmark with, maybe it should be. (See Healthcare Benchmarks, December 1998, p. 169.) After all, says Craig Taylor, director of business programs at the Disney Institute, Disney is a large, complex, and successful business, and it has guests just like a hospital. Granted, your guests might not be as excited to get a bed in the intensive care unit as a vacationer is to get a seat on Space Mountain, but the methods of keeping them happy are the same. "In today’s world, patients do have a choice," Taylor says. "It’s hard to differentiate yourself on price, but you can differentiate yourself on service."

In the quality service seminar, hospitals learn to understand who their "guests" are, how to develop a service philosophy and standards to measure it, how to create a positive culture, and how to provide quality service every day. Disney’s philosophy, Taylor says, is to create happiness, and its service standards are safety, courtesy, "show," and efficiency, in order of priority.

The show standard refers to creating the environment that embodies your philosophy. "We teach that everything speaks," Taylor says. "One of our guests at the seminar said she walked into an emergency room and saw undernourished, wilting plants drooping everywhere. The message was, If they can’t even keep their plants alive, what are they doing with me?’"

In the people management seminar, hospitals learn how Disney selects its "cast members" and how they train, communicate with, and support those employees. One of the keys is welcoming new employees into the culture and formally sharing with them the values, expectations, heritage, and traditions of Disney, Taylor says.

At least one hospital system is reaping the rewards of benchmarking with Disney. Teams from the University of Chicago Hospitals regularly attend Disney Institute seminars, says Judy Schueler, director of the University of Chicago Hospitals Academy, a corporate quality university that has also led benchmarking efforts with other non-health care companies such as Ritz-Carlton, Avis, Federal Express, and Motorola.

From Disney, the system learned about "casting," which it translates into nurturing and developing its human resources. Out of that technique came an improvement program called "right person, right role" that focused on screening new hires for critical success factors — service orientation, critical thinking, and situational judgment — as well as technical and clinical skills. As a result, the employee attrition rate has dropped from 25% to 18% in five years.

At the same time, patient satisfaction ratings increased, including a rise from 83% to 90% in the ambulatory care facility. The hospital system also changed its typical one-day-or-less orientation to a three-day program that covers the mission, purpose, and values of the hospital system as well as skill training on communicating with patients, families, and fellow employees.

Another lesson learned from Disney was examining work processes to enable employees to deliver high-quality service. Every day at Disney World, about 400 people lose their cars in the parking lot. An employee can ask one question, "What time did you arrive?" and tell the person within three rows where they’re parked. That’s because the times the rows fill up are recorded. That idea sparked the hospital system to look at its prescription system. Prescriptions are now faxed from physician’s offices to the hospital pharmacy so patients don’t have to wait in line.

"Health care organizations and hospitals are not known for their service; they’re not necessarily the ones we want to emulate," Schueler says. "We go to places like Disney to think outside of the box and translate those ideas to health care."