Readers Write

Gienna Shaw, for HealthLeaders Media, June 11, 2008

Opinions on bathrooms, hospital rankings, and new-fangled phones

Want to take a guess which of my recent columns got the most response from readers? That's right, the one on dirty hospital bathrooms. It might not seem like a very important topic—after all, hospitals are in the business of saving lives, not cleaning toilets. But it struck a nerve with readers who agreed that this little detail says a whole lot about your organization. I absolutely love hearing what readers have to say—so please keep those comments and e-mails coming.

Listen to what your bathrooms are saying
Your article [How to Clean up Your Image in Just Three Easy Steps, April 23, 2008] was right on target with what we learn through healthcare mystery shopping and what we try to stress in customer service training. We teach healthcare staff to always consider this statement: “If everything speaks, what is your environment saying about your quality?"

The average consumer isn't necessarily fluent in her local hospital's quality indicators, but most have heard about the risks of hospital-acquired infections. And although consumers don't comprehend microbiology, they do understand visible filth.

Consumers judge us on what they know and see. They aren't invited into the operating room to observe stringent sterile procedures, but they are welcome to use the restrooms. If the restrooms are disgusting, you may begin to doubt the cleanliness in general. Everything about the patient and visitor experience should reinforce their confidence in the organization. Your example of the hospital bathroom is exactly what healthcare organizations need to hear.

If everything speaks, what are you saying?

Kristin Baird
Baird Consulting Inc.

Put down that Kool-Aid
My observation is that hospitals are such insular places that they tend to lose sight of the basics. They drink too much of their own Kool-Aid and lose sight of some of the more basic concepts to patient care—like clean bathrooms. As a result, they all try and distinguish themselves around the same stuff—medical staff, technology, building, etc. In the end they all appear the same. Little do they realize that the small things are what delight patients the most. And it's what they remember and talk about. Just because your medical staff is Harvard educated doesn't mean that I don't appreciate a clean bathroom. Please!

Kevin Lieb
Director, Provider Programs
J.D. Power and Associates, Healthcare Division

Experience by the book
It all gets back to what Fred Lee says in his book "If Disney Ran Your Hospital." It's all about the experience. When professionals in the field talk quality it is metrics and data. When the public talks quality it is about the total experience.

Anthony Cirillo
Fast Forward Marketing Consulting

So, what've you been reading lately?
How often do you hear stories like this? All the time! One of my favorites is from an experience study we did a few years ago, where an auditor found a copy of Freedom magazine in a waiting room with a headline in very large type reading, “John Kerry tells gun owners to STICK IT!"

I would imagine most people of with Democratic Party leanings found that offensive. But no matter what political affiliation, magazines featuring such raw language would not be considered conducive to the comfortable, quiet atmosphere patients expect at a heart center.

Perhaps it's regrettable that patients pay more attention to these experiences than they do the skill of a surgeon or the seamlessness of a process, but they do. And no matter how many new ratings Websites or quality rankings are launched, I suspect they always will.

Chris Bevolo
GeigerBevolo Inc.

One regular reader took umbrage with my assertion that Consumer Reports, the latest organization to enter into the online healthcare ranking biz, might hold more sway with readers than its competitors, including the government.

Consider the Source
It's interesting that Consumer Reports would be thought of as a highly credible and reliable source for hospital ratings [Online Ranking Sites Still Lacking, June 4, 2008]. True, it has a recognizable brand. And yes, it is not supported through advertising.

However, ‘free of advertising' doesn't necessarily mean consumers will attribute more credibility to a general magazine's findings. While Consumer Reports has long held claim to being the objective automobile ranking king, several other services (such as and CarMax) have recently begun to chip away at that mantle. That's because consumers perceive these alternative sources to have more credibility in the automotive field.

And as much as it loves to throw brickbats at the government, the public still views governmental sources as more unbiased than other sources when it comes to their health. Will hospital ratings (or for that matter law firms or real estate businesses) ever work the way ratings for cars, appliances, garden hoses, and cell phones do? Hard to say.

But in the meantime, just as it's always been with services that are highly personal and carry a great deal of risk, it's "buyer beware."

Patrick T. Buckley
President and CEO
PB Healthcare Business Solutions

Finally, my column on customized or vanity phone numbers [A Custom Call to Action, May 7, 2008] sparked an interesting online debate about whether or not they're a good idea. I have to admit, it never occurred to me that it might be difficult for people with keyboards instead of number pads on their cell phones to dial, as one reader put it, “cute" phone numbers.

Those who responded online had some helpful hints about how to make this kind of customized marketing work, such as combining customized phone numbers with customized URLs and including a numeric translation in all ad copy.

(Read from the last comment up to follow the conversation chronologically.)

Gienna Shaw is an editor with HealthLeaders magazine. She can be reached at
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