Hospitalization is not exactly an event that invokes positive memories but my stay at the Medical City (TMC) last month following a medical procedure was a comfortable and interesting experience for me.  I especially valued having excellent doctors who are not just technically outstanding but whose bedside manners have been more than reassuring.   I love how accessible doctors are nowadays - they are just a text or a call away, and they even return calls.  (Thank you Dr. Martinez, Dr. Germar and Dr. Reyes!) The nursing staff provided care as expected, and while they could be more "wow",  the "service-nazi" in me was quite appeased.  (The only glitch in the entire experience was the last moment of truth when the parking attendant was asking for a clearance from us so we can exit the parking from the Discharge Patio without having to pay anything.  The nurse who helped us in the discharge procedure told us to just tell the attendant that we're cleared but the attendant kept us for a few minutes, insisting we needed to produce a clearance, which was, of course, given to the guard on duty at the Discharge Patio.  Coordination please?)
 
A few days later, I was pleasantly surprised to receive a call from TMC asking me if I were fine with receiving notices, updates, or calls from their Home Care group as part of their continuity of care program.  While I have yet to discover what the program can offer me, I am definitely looking forward to this simple "innovation" which definitely caught my attention, because I did not expect it.
 
Research by Lansisalmi et. al. and Williums et. al., showed how service innovation in hospitals "is more complicated due to difficulties in changing behaviors of clinical service providers in terms of clinical practice treatment, hospital regulations as well as financial, social, clinical and ethical risks."  Therefore, it takes a determined leader with a team willing to look at hospital care service with different lenses, as shared in bestselling book "If Disney Ran Your Hospital" by Fred Lee, a former senior executive in a major medical center and a former Disney cast member. Lee noted that Disney does not provide a service but an experience, something hospitals can match to gain not just satisfaction but loyalty, where "loyalty is generated by memorable things that happen that we didn't expect (Lee)."
 
Other health care providers such as the Mayo Clinic and Kaiser Permanent among others,  have engaged the services of the global design and consulting company IDEO, to help develop an internal innovation program (or template) using a human-centered design-thinking approach.
 
Mayo Clinic's See, Plan, Act, Refine, and Communicate (SPARC) Innovation Program was intended to improve patient experience by requiring doctors, nurses and staff to be designers themselves - observing, shadowing and asking questions. By uncovering unmet needs or sources of dissatisfaction or discomfort of patients, they can act on it by improving processes, technology or even hospital layout or design.  These critical moments of truth include (among many others) the admitting process, where sick patients dreading long check-in lines can use self-service computer kiosks, to how patients learn treatment options, or even how the back office or front desk staff work in front of everyone. 
 
On the other hand, Kaiser Permanent's Nurse Knowledge Exchange improved patient care especially during changes in shifts of nurses.  Later on, Kaiser Permanent also created the MedRite Program that improved the safety and reliability of medication administration. Both programs responded to empirical data, observations, surveys, interviews from patients about their needs and from healthcare providers about how they can do their work better - the latter translating to happier employees who provide better service.
 
While we find many instances where the customer or patient are the main source of insights for innovation, it must be noted that service providers need to also anticipate what customers don't even know they want but would wow them if served, like an unexpected pleasant surprise. Moreover, it is as important to look into the needs of internal customers who will provide or execute the service to ensure they are able to deliver the desired service levels via skills building to include empathy and listening skills, while establishing processes that would enable them to do a good job.   And then satisfaction and loyalty can be gained by designing a service innovation that will lead to customers developing positive memories from each moment of truth spread over the total experience (that should translate into better bottomlines).
 
Chiqui Escareal-Go is the President and Chief Service Strategist of Mansmith and Fielders, Inc. the only advocacy-based training and consulting firm focused on marketing, sales, strategy and innovation. For information visit www.mansmith.net or email info@mansmith.net