What Disney Can Teach Your Doctor’s Office

Our family did something a little different this Thanksgiving. Rather than the traditional turkey, parades and football – we headed down to Disney World with my parents, my brothers and their families.

If there’s one thing that Disney does well, it’s creating an immersive experience that allows the child in all of us to suspend our disbelief and accept talking mice and dancing teapots. Disney’s built a leadership institute that teaches other organizations to apply the operating philosophy they’ve developed for maintaining that experience and delighting visitors at every turn.

When I’ve talked with graduates of the Disney programs they routinely focus on the concepts of on-stage vs. off-stage spaces. A child’s Disney experiences would quickly be ruined by seeing Goofy holding his puppet head under one arm or Cinderella having a smoke backstage, after all. To prevent this, Disney pioneered a physical plant design approach that keeps all of the details of how the sausage is made out of the sight of visitors.

What I found most interesting during my time in the house of the mouse was a growing focus on waiting around as a part of the experience. Waiting for rides and attractions is a fact of life in any amusement park, and the Thanksgiving crowds put a lot of pressure on the queues.

While waiting may be inevitable, it’s clearly a risk to the experience that Disney wants to mitigate. So they’ve found some very creative ways to address this:

  • For starters, Disney gets good data to work from. Periodically, someone is given a red card when they get into line that they turn in before boarding. This gives reliable timely data on the current wait. While I anticipate that someone somewhere analyzed that information, the more practical implication is that they post wait time information at the ride entrance and on smartphone apps.
  • Disney also understands the psychology of the waiter and has given a lot of thought to how they set expectations. I believe that they pad the wait times that they report to avoid that all-to-frequent restaurant negative point of waiting longer than you were told.
  • Another clever solution to the wait question is Disney’s Fastpass system. They realized many years ago that only certain attractions get the really long wait times while others were underutilized. Why not let visitors use the less busy rides and attractions while they wait for the most popular? While the details of Fastpass are complicated, this is essentially what the system accomplishes.
  • With the Fastpass system in place, Disney has been able to use it in creative ways. For example, adults staying behind with children can get a special similar pass to board rides after the rest of their party returns. Disney also uses the high perceived value of the passes to their advantage, handing out the passes to those just entering the park to fill under-attended shows or offering them as compensation for bad experiences like getting stuck on a ride.
  • Most impressive to me was the ways that Disney integrated waiting into the experience for an attraction. Sure, you might wait 35 minutes for the Muppet show, but that seems less onerous when there’s a 15 minute Muppet-filled warm up act in the waiting area before you go in. And the interactive games built into the waiting lines for some attractions were as much fun as the attractions themselves (the Haunted Mansion is a great example here – I highly recommend the graveyard).

For all of that, there were also times where the system simply failed. The busses from our Disney resort to the parks were the most painful example. Sometimes the busses were efficient and convenient.  While other times waits for a bus were excessive – only to have several busses for the same park arrive at once or several busses in a row would stop only to be too full to accommodate any additional passengers.

Unfortunately, this looks a lot like the waiting system that we find at many doctors’ offices and hospitals today!

Waiting is part of the healthcare experience, too. While it may not be inevitable, we could take some pointers from Disney and think about that wait differently:

  • Get good wait time data from our EMR systems. Post that in the waiting rooms, and make it available on our websites and mobile apps to help patients make better decisions. Also, make sure someone somewhere is analyzing that data.
  • Let patients do their wait somewhere other than your waiting room with remote online appointment check-in or call ahead urgent care. Either set a time for them to come into the office or send them a text message 10 minutes before it’s time for them to come in.
  • Integrate waiting into the experience. If the patient is waiting for a test or is being seen for a particular condition, provide them with resources about that test or condition before they see the doctor. It makes both their waiting time and the limited face time that they get with their physician more productive.

But most of all get creative with the solutions! Like it or not, waiting around is part of the experience and it can take a great experience with a provider and ruin it in the eyes of the patient. Take a new outlook on this patient pain point and your organization can turn these experience killers around too.

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This entry was posted in Consumer Expectations, User Experience by Ben Dillon. Bookmark the permalink.
Ben Dillon

About Ben Dillon

Ben’s a big picture type of guy. He loves sharing new ideas in digital marketing, keeping a watchful eye on healthcare industry trends and seeing how it all intersects. A sought-after speaker, writer, blogger and current SHSMD board member, Ben’s an influential voice in healthcare marketing, helping organizations across the country embrace online strategies to engage health consumers. Combine his industry savvy with his background in software development and you can see why he’s also an important member of Geonetric’s software team, ensuring our content management system stays a step ahead of market needs. Ben holds a master’s degree in eBusiness and strategic management from the University of Iowa and a bachelor’s degree in computer engineering from the University of Michigan. When he’s not traveling and evangelizing, Ben enjoys cooking with his family and playing the Big House with the University of Michigan Alumni marching band.

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