Ten Miles Square


April 27, 2012 12:40 PM What if Hospitals Were More Like Disney World?

By Aaron Carroll

When a colleague first sent me this link, I was skeptical:

Maryland teachers were instructed to engage children by crouching and speaking to them at eye level. Chevrolet dealers were taught to think in theatre metaphors: onstage, where smiles greet potential buyers, and offstage, where sales representatives can take out-of-sight cigarette breaks.
A Florida children’s hospital was advised to welcome patients in an entertaining way, prompting it to employ a ukulele-playing greeter dressed in safari gear.
These personal service tips came from the Disney Institute, the low-profile consulting division of the Walt Disney Co. Desperate for new ways to connect with consumers, an increasing array of industries and organisations are paying Disney to teach them how to become, well, more like Disney.

At first blush, it’s easy to make fun of this. But having spent Spring Break in Disney World this year, I sort of see the allure for companies. I grant that it’s not hard to find evidence that some of Disney’s HR policies are somewhat archaic. Evidently, they only recently allowed men to have facial hair and women to go without pantyhose. But when it comes to customer service, it’s hard to do better than Disney. For companies trying to find ways to make their clients happier or more at home, is there anyone better to learn from?

And while I think that hard outcomes are preferable to smiles and gimmicks, I can’t find too much fault with a children’s hospital that is trying to make its patients, and parents, a little more comfortable. I know I should be more cynical about this. But… Disney… happiness… I swear, that place gets under your skin.

P.S. I have been thinking about whether I should blog about my recent Disney trip. I’m on the fence. But if I hear from you that you’d like that, I’d likely oblige. I spent a lot of time figuring out how to maximize my family’s time in the parks.

[Cross-posted at The Incidental Economist]

Aaron Carroll ,MD, is an associate professor of Pediatrics and the associate director of Children’s Health Services Research at Indiana University School of Medicine.


  • Snarki, child of Loki on April 28, 2012 2:09 PM:

    It's "applied psychology", and true enough, Disney has some real expertise in the field.

    It's a tool for dealing with social situations, and like any tool, whether it is "good" or "bad" is not so much a property of the tool, as the purpose for which it is used.

    Helping kids in school? Good.

    Reducing anxiety of patients and their families at a hospital? Good.

    Helping a car dealer sell you a car? Ummmm, not so sure about this one.

  • bos'n on April 28, 2012 3:38 PM:

    Would love to read your thoughts on Disney World.

  • zandru on April 29, 2012 3:38 PM:

    More On Greeters

    Personally, I hate "greeters". Their sole purpose seems to make the shopper feel uncomfortable the moment s/he walks in the door. Perhaps it's the doddering old gentleman. Or maybe the paraplegic, twisted into his powered wheelchair and gazing at you with his head on sideways. Or a mentally-challenged guy who's hard to understand and also on crutches. A clown playing a uke? Yeah, sure - why not?

    The reason I hate these folks is that their entire job - and training - consists of saying "Welcome to BigBox". Not one of them has a clue of where anything actually is in BigBox.

    I'd feel a lot more welcome if the individual "welcoming" me could also answer at least a few rudimentary questions. Like "where can I find the paint?" As things stand in commerce, however, the only reason BigBox and the rest have "greeters" is to show the community that BigBox is helping by hiring the less fortunate.

  • moronie on May 01, 2012 1:49 AM:

    A recent experience with a hospice facility left me wondering if they had not consulted with a circus (for which I was quite grateful). All the staff seemed to wear oversized shoes. The fleet of small, funky cars out front seemed like they could roll into any big top. Colors were varied and lively. The break room had the feel of a bistro. Kids were allowed to run in the hall. Kindness was exuded to my relative and family was routinely checked on. A year's worth of intense medical involvement was ameliorated there. I got to ride in first class once, it was a little like that.

  • ALex Ford on May 11, 2012 9:17 AM:

    It would be great to see the hospitals like Disney world.That the Patients feel comfortable is one of the utmost objective of the hospitals and canadian pharmacies here.But With the uncertain economic state of our current health care system, it is very easy for health care professionals to lose sight of what patient care really means to the patient.