Care before cure. Hospital branding in a heartbeat

Based on a true story (I always wanted to say that).

Note: When I say “hospital” I mean everyone within the premises. Doctors, nurses, staff, etc.

Most, if not all hospitals just don’t get it. We do not come visit for the fun! (say it with the most sarcastic tone you can put). Here’s what I mean: I had to rush my mother to emergency in a very reputed hospital (and I mean “very” reputed), with an atrocious pain. It was 09:45 in the morning. At 16:00 we were still in the emergency, waiting. She first had some tests done which came negative. So her doctor decided she needed a CT scan. That decision was taken around 11:00.

It took us 4 hours of waiting and getting the admission paperwork done and 1 hour to get her down to the CT scan.

Now, seriously, which part of “ouch” don’t hospitals get?!

The funny part is in the way they “patiently” and “professionally” explain to you why these things take time! Now that explanations are duly made, my mom’s pain can take a rest or simply poof! fade… I am just now discovering that paperwork is a considered a form of homeopathy treatment!

When you’re in pain, all you need is some care. That’s the family job they say. Our job at a hospital is to cure. Since when care is not anymore a part of the cure? That’s one. Two, hospitals do not cure. They simply provide the adequate facilities to “try” and cure. In the process of trial, care is an essential element to motivate the patient to cooperate both physically and mentally. Advances in modern medicine have proven that if you are psychologically motivated, you can help fight the illness better and react positively to treatments.

But who am I to argue. I’m no doctor!

What I can argue about is branding, and that’s for sure a turf the medical body misses by miles. And here’s why:

Hospitals and doctors alike love to brag about their Hippocratic Oath. Easier said than done. Comes the application, they once more miss the target by miles.

Have you seen how patients are treated in hospitals? Have you seen nurses pushing them around like punch bags? Have you seen how they kiss up to secure their “tip”? Have you seen doctors making lightning one minute calls to the patient’s room, only to log it as a billable visit? Have you seen how admission clerks, emergency residents, or the best of all, the “customer care” clerks, deal and talk to you?

Did you know that you have to bring your own paper tissues, drinking water, or even soap? Did you know that if you decide to use the hospital’s water, you get tap water in a plastic jug? Tap water!

When was the last time you rang the service bell in your bed and got someone to promptly answer? If and when they did, when was the last time you got your modest request attended to? And, if it was finally attended to, when was the last time you got it with even the embryo of a smile?

Now, for heaven’s sake, someone tell me where is the pledge of curing and bringing comfort hiding in all of that? Really! Maybe I’m just an idiot who’s missing the point.

Have you heard people talking about hospitals? Name one who mentioned a total positive experience. Name one who was able to match the hospital’s publicity messages with the actual experience. Name one who, once he or she stepped inside a hospital, had a sense of assurance or warmth at least, let alone a perspective of cure.

So how do hospitals manage to sustain business? How do they brand themselves?

So far, the answer is clear: “You need us, that’s what we’ve got. Take it or… die!”

This is a dangerous form of disease called monopoly, or a multipoly (I guess the word does not exist, but hey! This is Lebanon, we invented the “word”). The paradox is in the way they “think they act” like businesses. They don’t. Businesses believe first in competition, not monopoly.

When there’s competition, there’s better customer service which leads to satisfaction, which leads to loyalty, which leads to a Brand. Hospitals do compete, don’t get me wrong, but this competition happens on the underlying levels, the ones that are transparent to the patient. They compete to make profit just like any other business. And that’s where the problem lurks. Hospitals are not like any other business; they cannot adopt the same model.

Hospitals are not brands. They are horrible memories. That’s why we remember them, because we fear them. When was the last time a hospital did something to address this syndrome? Some failed attempts tried to position the facilities as a hotel, or boutique-hospital. How pathetic is that? The subliminal message was: If you have cash, a lot of it and are willing to pay some for the treatment and a lot for the flashy part… we’re here for you. The next thing you find is a piano in the lobby!

To care to cure. I always tried to sell this line to a hospital while trying to brand it. None accepted. This is scary! Notice, there is no comma between “to care” and “to cure”, and for a good reason. Figure it out, I’m not going to explain it. And then try to understand why hospitals fear this line where it should be their sole motto.

Some might argue that this paper is due to my frustration and that it is subsequently subjective.

Well Daaaaah!

Do you really expect me or anyone to be objective vis-à-vis healthcare? Oh, and by the way, it is called HealthCARE! How ironic.

The concept of care is subjective by its very nature. Hell! The concept of cure is even more subjective. Have you ever heard of a “second opinion”? Did you ever get the same diagnostic from multiple doctors on the same issue? No? Good. So why again am I the one who is supposed to be objective?

I am wearing two hats now. The hat of the Brander and I made my point, and the hat of the consumer and the frustration shows it. In both cases it. Brands send messages and the consumer bounces them back with his or her “subjective” reaction upon encounter, not on destination. At destination, it is too late. So at the end, as Branders, and when it mostly comes to healthcare branding, the more we think subjective and act objective, the more we fit the patients’ patterns.

The problem with hospitals is that they act subjectively and then, with enough insolence, ask us, the patients, in pain, to be objective!

Objectively, why does everyone fear hospitals and prefer to wait till the last-minute to forcibly visit?

Objectively, why we never understand one single word we’re told by doctors or written in the plethora of forms we fill and sign?

Objectively, why do we have to repeat our medical history to five different persons filling five different files in one single day? Aren’t patients supposed to have one unified file on the hospital’s database?

Objectively, why does one staff bring dinner to a person who was just told by another staff that she cannot eat in preparation for a procedure?

Objectively, if hospitals really do care about their brands, why don’t they match their overall service and human experience with their interior architecture? Or better, why don’t they exceed it? Speaking of architecture, did you ever manage to use a hospital’s signage system? Did you notice how we have to ask ten people on our way to find our destination? The funniest is that even staff get lost sometimes while giving you directions!

Objectively, a hospital brand’s nucleus lies in how human it gets. In their defense, hospitals don’t always have the power to cure or save, but patients need to understand that. The only mean to make them do so is through the brands hospitals build for themselves. It is in the brand that values like care are embedded. It is a human fact, when someone cares for you, you are inclined to believe and trust them; even if they fail to extend all the assistance, because “we know” they tried their best.

So, objectively, when was the last time you felt that a hospital tried its best? Sometimes we’d rather die than visit the very place that’s supposed to save our lives. Sadly enough, they do save a lot of lives, they are good at what they do, but they miss a small but detrimental detail; telling us!

© 2010 Ibrahim Lahoud

23 Responses to “Care before cure. Hospital branding in a heartbeat”

  1. August 23, 2010 at 11:42

    This post brought back a lot of unpleasant memories. I have had several similar experiences with my late mother. And spent a good part of eight years in and out of hospitals, in Beirut and London, sometimes actually living in them for two months at a time because I did not dare leave her alone for a single second. I think in one case, before blood was tested, she was infected by a bad blood transfusion which a few years later led to Liver cirrhosis… I totally get your post and would not wish a stay in any hospital on anyone. I hope your mother is okay and wish her the best.

  2. 2 meinlebanon
    August 23, 2010 at 12:05

    I cannot comment on Hospital and Doctors here in Lebanon, as I have yet to experience either. What I can comment on is my experiences back home in Miami. Perhaps because there is so much competition Doctors, Dentists, and Hospitals feel more compelled to render their services “with a smile..” I even think that the physicians go the extra mile to make you feel comfortable by reading through your chart before coming to see you..so they always start the appointment with, “So, the last time you were here you were complaining about X, how are you feeling now? Have you seen any changes?”

    I even have one Doctor who sits down with me, asks me questions about my personal life, and gives me detailed and thorough explanations whenever I may need them, and even sometimes when I don’t! He told me that insurance companies label him has “inefficient and non-productive” because he takes his time with his patients, and doesn’t treat them like numbers. This is not to say that I haven’t had bad experiences with doctors, but for the most part, and from my experience, people who work in the health care industry in the States do so because they genuinely care to help people..or perhaps it’s because they are afraid to get sued for negligence! ;/

    All of this to say, I’m waiting until I go home to get my check ups.

  3. 3 meinlebanon
    August 23, 2010 at 12:05

    Oh, I hope that your Mom was treated with care, and that everything turned out to be ok!

  4. August 23, 2010 at 12:14

    I know which Hospital you were talking about. My aunt who I told you about previously was checked in cos of a major surgery to remove and redirect some issues (better not mention details). When I was there, with her in the room she started feeling bad and pain in the stomach…it took around 5 minutes for anyone to reply…they replied by phone first, made her scream her heart out and took the time to strutter down the isle and get to the room.

    It made me sick!

    I can remember staying one more day in 2006 after my own accident just for “monetary issues and paperwork” waiting for those to be finalized.
    It just makes me sick sometimes.

    I don’t wish anyone any kind of hospital experience, I wish all your family all the best.

  5. August 23, 2010 at 13:23

    What’s pathetic is that it’s a recurring issue for years now, yet what do we hear daily in the news?? Hospitals will refuse admission to Social Security citizens until they (hospitals) get their dues paid!! In other terms, they know they hold the wild card, they know they can put pressure more than anyone else, they know they can use the poor patient in pain as leverage, and they do!

    But when it gets to US, the patients, we can wait. Read what Danielle says about healthcare in the U.S. Despite all their problems there, she is right. I did witness it first hand in Miami specifically. Yes, they actually make you feel at ease, even if they’re faking it or are afraid of a law suit. Come to think about about, it’s maybe our f***d up legal system that is to blame. Finally, like everything else in Lebanon, we need to be treated like children; always having someone to slap us on the hand when we screw up. God knows hospitals need one hell of a slap! And to hell with branding 😉

  6. 6 Dar El Akhdar
    August 23, 2010 at 14:35

    Kudos Mr. Lahoud for talking in the name of the silent majority!

  7. 7 Waleed Soufi
    August 25, 2010 at 12:48

    Dear Mr. Lahoud,

    Loved your line,

    (So how do hospitals manage to sustain business? How do they brand themselves?

    So far, the answer is clear: “You need us, that’s what we’ve got. Take it or… die!”)

    What you mentioned above is so true, all parts of it in every section.. what I have also experienced is the getting lost in the hospital trauma. Some Hospitals are so big you have to jump from one building to the next, baring in mind no place to park your car or in case of emergency difficult to reach, ironically maybe ambulances should be helicopters rather than moving 4 wheel vehicles. Talk about waiting in the emergency room, most hospitals I’ve been to have emergency rooms full of people hardly any room for an extra patient and they make you wait forever to do the regular tests were you wait for hours and patients start accumulating when another member of he family has to stand in line outside a 2*2 meter office to get his papers approved.

    Most importantly hope your mother is doing fine.

    Wishes of health & long life,

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