But the hospital did not close. Two decades later, Griffin is financially successful, steadily expanding its programs, its buildings, and — a key metric for hospitals — its market share. It is the only hospital named by Fortune magazine as one of the “100 Best Companies to Work For” in America for seven consecutive years, ranking No. 4 in 2006. And Griffin has become such a model for other institutions that it conducts a side business charging health-care executives thousands of dollars for “benchmarking” tours. How did such a striking change occur? Through a single-minded devotion to customer service — one that many in health care regard as quixotic, superfluous, or even downright fanatical.
Griffin is typical of a worldwide subculture of hospitals and other health-care facilities that in the past 20 years have taken the idea of customer service to heart and transformed themselves. In the process, they are demonstrating that service-minded health-care institutions can thrive financially even amid escalating costs and competitive pressure. This movement goes by a number of names — people-centered health care, health-care improvement, medical quality, and consumer-driven health care. It is led by a host of advocacy and research organizations that include an international nonprofit managed by Griffin Hospital: Planetree, an association of 100 hospitals aimed at improving the patient experience. Other leading organizations include the Institute for Healthcare Improvement (known for its crusading founder, Dr. Donald Berwick, and its “100,000 Lives” campaign) and the Center for Health Design, which promotes “evidence-based building design” to construct hospitals that work better for patients. The place to see the people-centered movement in action is in Griffin Hospital and some counterparts around the world. Three health-care centers in the U.S. — Griffin, North Hawaii Community Hospital, and the Fresno Surgery Center in California — show how even hidebound organizations like hospitals can remake themselves and the way they do business.
While new payment schemes, clearer pricing, and increasing competition are driving most hospitals to hack and trim in desperate efforts to survive, the executives at Griffin and other “five-star hospitals” have taken a different tack. They’re attempting to build health-care centers with the customer-friendliness of Nordstrom, the reliability of FedEx, and the transactional accuracy and simplicity of American Express. They believe that making hospital stays more pleasant will pump up market share and revenues, boost the quality of clinical care, create less stress for the staff, and generally turn their business around. They are transforming themselves to better serve the consumer.
The Tough Business of Caring
Visibly, vividly, most of today’s hospitals do not work for the customer. Rik Elswit, the legendary guitarist for the rock band Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show, struggled with several forms of cancer for years. Ask him about the treatment and cure and he lights up, overflowing with praise for the miracles of modern medicine and the skill of its practitioners. Ask about his experiences as a patient, though, and his face changes completely. “I don’t see why, just because I was sick, they had to treat me like a prisoner,” he says.