My wife and I were already lost in a whirlwind of emotions—fear, uncertainty, anxiety, excitement, love—and we were at the crux of one of the most emotional, and stressful, points in life’s journey. I was at dance class with my 3-year-old daughter, and casually dropped by Target on the way home. Because that’s what families do for fun on the weekends, they go to Target. I got a call from my wife saying her belly was hurting, but it wasn’t too bad, but get home soon. By the time I got home, she was doubled over in pain. She was having contractions, we were having twins, and we were too early to be delivering these kids.

We rushed to the hospital, but not before my wife did her hair. A big part of me thought this was a false alarm and we would be sent home, but sure enough a few hours later we delivered twin boys. And it was for another two weeks that we were able to check them out of the NICU and take them home. While I have spent an incredible amount of time building health care brands and crafting patient journeys, this deep, personal immersion exponentially increased my appreciation for the importance of nailing the patient experience.

I found myself judging every single step of the journey, positive and negative, big and small. But I realized it was not because I happen to be in the world of evaluating these things for clients, it was something I noticed every patient naturally doing. In talking with and overhearing other patients, every sense was being discussed and how it impacted their hospital experience—noises, smells, the food, how the environment looked, the touch of the sheets and pillows, etc. It wasn’t until well after we were able to bring our healthy twin boys home that I was able to consolidate my experience into some key insights, and I still haven’t slept so bear with me a little…

For context, we delivered at Rose Medical Center, which is one of the best places in Colorado to have a baby. And I have to say that overall, it is very clear why. The overall experience was incredible, and you can tell they work so hard to go over the top. We feel very lucky we were able to deliver at Rose, and thank all the amazing doctors and nurses there for the incredible work they did for us. That said, there were some obvious opportunities to improve as well.

The following are some key insights that any health system, and even those outside of health care, can use to create a more powerful, customer-centric experience, told through the lens of my actual, sequential journey:

The arrival: There should be no such thing as off hours

Luckily, we had our daughter at Rose, so we already had a very high regard, because our initial experience was fairly ridiculous. Of course, all of this happened on a Saturday, but thankfully mid-day instead of middle of the night. We screech to a halt at the Rose Babies entrance (right next to ER, basically same entrance but different doors). Upon reflection, it is a bit confusing and disconnected given that the system is HealthOne, the hospital is Rose, and then they have a special Rose Babies entrance. It’s a lot to piece together, but this point comes up more a bit later.

The biggest challenge—because it was a Saturday the front desk people were not there to answer any questions or give guidance, AND the damn elevator wasn’t working—was getting to where we needed to go. My wife is in pain, crying, pregnant with twins, and nobody is around to help. We go to the ER area, and they only have a security guard there. This is where the absurd happens—since the elevator was out she said we had to walk up three flights of stairs to get to Labor & Delivery. Not only was I dumbfounded, but all the other patients trying to check in were appalled. Finally, a nurse walked by and called up to get someone to come down with a wheelchair and take us on a back route that didn’t require someone in labor walking up three flights of stairs.

Admission: Environment makes a huge difference

As we get to our room and get prepared for delivery, the experience starts to deliver more on the stellar reputation. At this point, everything is such a whirlwind and we are meeting so many people that we don’t have time to make any real connections, so the biggest thing we notice is the environment. The rooms were very large, clean, comfortable and felt up-to-date. Not ultra-modern, but importantly amped up the comfort aspect. We moved to Colorado from NYC, and I can only imagine that this great experience likely wouldn’t be a common occurrence in a busy Manhattan hospital. This comfortable environment immediately started to ease tensions and anxiety, and allowed us to finally focus on what was about to happen.

The wait: Best people = personalized attention

We only had a couple hours between arrival and delivery, but they were very important for establishing trust and confidence. What made this more important is that our doctor was not on call, so a stranger had to deliver our preemie twins. This is where Rose is superb, the people are incredible. The new doctor made sure to spend a lot of time with us, talk through everything, answer our hundreds of questions, etc. She never rushed us, and made us feel like we were her only patients. The care teams were equally impressive. Each person gave us the same individual attention, but also made a point to establish a personal connection. Turns out my wife and the anesthesiologist were from the same town in Pennsylvania, and were able to bond over Wawa. They made sure the NICU team came in prior to delivery to introduce themselves and answer all the questions we had about that process, and again were able to create a connection with all the people who were going to be in the room when we delivered. These interactions minimized the stress and anxiety that we had coming into the hospital, and set the stage for what to expect from that point forward.

At no point were we concerned about the quality or education of the nurses and providers, it was more about how they treated us and interacted with us. This aligns with Monigle’s new study Humanizing Brand Experience that found that “Best People” has nothing to do with experience and expertise, but more about personalized attention and care.

The delivery: Balance operations with humanity

We got to the hospital around 2:30 pm, and the kids were born around 6 pm, so it was a bit of a whirlwind for a day that we just planned on sitting on the couch and watching movies. When it was time, we had to go to the OR, standard procedure for twins I guess. This easily could have been scary and intimidating compared to our more casual delivery room experience with our daughter, but the team made it feel very comfortable, all things considered. There was an army of people in there and ready to go, everything set up, and everyone was very calm and steady. There was never a moment when we felt they weren’t prepared, confident, or aligned, and it never once got even slightly chaotic.

On top of that, they all maintained their amazing personable personalities throughout. They had reassuring conversations with my wife, and made sure I wasn’t passing out on the floor somewhere. They made sure to tell me where I could sit, what I could and couldn’t do, and prepped me for when I could get photos, etc. It was incredible how insanely coordinated and prepped they were that it instilled so much confidence and calmness, while also taking the time to still treat us like people as well as patients, providing a more human and personal experience.

The recovery: Treat us like valued guests, not patients

After an experience like that (and likely for any inpatient procedure), the recovery is such a critical piece to the experience. Up to this point, it’s nervousness and anxiety about what is coming, and this is finally the moment to exhale, breathe a sigh of relief, and reflect on everything that happened. At this point, Rose started off incredibly strong. I guess they were somewhat slower than usual, and so offered us what amounted to a suite—a huge private room with a queen bed, entertainment center, refrigerator, and private bathroom. Right outside was a fridge stocked with pudding, ice pops and drinks. And they started off by making both my wife and I their “signature drink” – which is some kind of delicious tropical drink without the alcohol. Certain nurses put a special spin on it, and it felt like there was an internal competition about who could make it the best—it was pretty great. Rose is actually famous for these drinks, which shows how such a simple, novel thing can actually make a lasting impression.

While we started out amazing, it started to go downhill. The one mandate my wife had was to rest. The next morning, the nurses came in and said we would have to change rooms that day. We had unloaded all of our stuff, settled in, and made this place our temporary home, and on top of that the room that they wanted to put us in was half the size and had a twin bed. For me, the queen bed was the difference-maker because I while I had been able to sleep with my wife in a reasonably comfortable bed, my daughter and I would now be on an incredibly uncomfortable cot. This just added a significant amount of stress to our lives that we didn’t need, especially my wife. I needed to push back much harder than I thought I would have to. Then the solution they had was we could stay, but at a moments’ notice if they needed the room they would have to quickly kick us out—in the middle of the night! So they tell my wife she needs to sleep, but then they tell us they could make us move rooms at 3 am. While they ultimately didn’t move us, this put a huge damper on our recovery experience. However, they offered what they call a “celebration meal,” which was one of the best steaks we have ever had in our life (honestly, that good, and I have had a lot of steak from top NYC restaurants). It was incredible how these few experiences that made us feel more like guests than patients really made a difference.

The NICU: Confident, clear, coordinated information is crucial

First off, NICU people are amazing humans, and the work they do is exceptional. But from a parent’s perspective, this is an incredibly difficult and emotional experience. To have a new baby (or babies) that you can’t take home, and have to travel somewhere over and over to see them with tubes and cords everywhere, just hoping they make progress is the most difficult thing my wife and I have had to do. Again, the people at Rose made this as pleasant as possible. Each and every nurse was a rock star, and showed they genuinely cared about our kids. They were actually cheering for them as they hit milestones and really became part of the family. We spent hours talking with these folks, and really got to know them personally, even spending quite a bit of time laughing. They were also insanely helpful, taking time to give us tips and tricks, not only for our twins but for our daughter. They had lactation consultants, developmental specialists, and pretty much any kind of expert available we would want to speak with. And once again, the environment made the experience much more enjoyable as well. We had a private room built especially for twins, and could leave our stuff there so we could make it as homey as possible.

While the people again made the overall experience very positive, we did have an issue with consistent information sharing. Very early on, some people said that the boys were doing so well that they could be out in as soon as two days, while others said it could be two weeks or even more. If you don’t know, then don’t give people false hope and unrealistic expectations, because when we ended up staying for two weeks it made us feel like our kids weren’t doing as well as they should. Another key moment that happened early on was a disagreement between the doctors and nurses, that happened right in front of me. A nurse mentioned that one of the boys was not advancing as quickly as they wanted, so they wanted to lower the isolette and insert a feeding tube. I was surprised because the day before everyone said he was doing great. I was fairly concerned, and didn’t feel like it made sense. Shortly after, the doctors did their rounds and the first thing the doctor said was, “I am not sure why we are putting such high standards on him and giving him a feeding tube.” At this point, I lost confidence that anyone was talking to each other and started to question everything. They ended up yanking the feeding tube they had just inserted, but I was fairly upset with this obvious lack of information sharing and alignment between the docs and nurses, which was impacting the care of my preemie child. To their credit, pretty much every single nurse came up to me afterwards to apologize, better understand what happened, and ensure me that my feedback will help them get better. This very immediate and sincere response quickly restored my faith in the team and process.

Going back to something mentioned earlier, the branding created a bunch of complexity and confusion. I was at Rose Medical Center, which is part of HealthOne, and Rose Babies had its own brand, and then the NICU had a small Rocky Mountain Hospital for Children sign, and I am getting bills from Pediatrix and other brands I never even saw. This is unnecessary complexity, and makes for a frustrating billing experience. This can be greatly simplified, or at minimum communicated much more clearly.

The discharge: Make the last touchpoint count

After two weeks, we could finally bring our boys home. Exciting, and scary. Every nurse made sure to say goodbye, we even got contact info for a few of them. The main nurses walked us out to our car and helped us with everything. We were even invited to a NICU babies reunion party so we could see each other again. We developed such a great relationship, and the discharge felt like we were saying goodbye after a long trip with family. This goodbye felt heartfelt and personal, and was the perfect capstone to an overall wonderful experience. And this also made sure we were leaving on a very positive note, and that memory is one of the strongest.

Quick tip: People take home the blankets and hats that are provided in the hospital. This is a MAJOR branding opportunity, whether for the hospital or with a sponsor. Rose actually gave us some amazing large Rose-branded muslin blankets. They are our favorite blankets, much nicer than other brands I have purchased, and I show them to people all the time. These blankets are like billboards for other expecting parents, so use it as an opportunity to make something special. I am a huge Broncos fan, and I would love it even more if they provided co-branded Rose and Broncos gear. Lots of opportunities here.

The continued support: Keep in touch

Now at home, we greatly missed all the support we had at the NICU. But they let us still call them and ask questions and get advice. Additionally, Rose offers many free courses and sessions that are incredibly valuable. We really do feel that being a Rose baby is being part of a lifetime club, not just a brief moment in time. We feel we always have the support we need, which gives us a constant feeling of comfort and confidence.

The main takeaway

Amazing people really make the experience, and can make up for any slips. But having the best people is more about how they make patients feel, not education and accolades. Beyond people, even the smallest moments of surprise and delight can make a huge impact. Experience is about engaging all the senses so that you can create strong, positive memories that people talk about. Because that’s all brand is—a series of memories.

Thank you Rose for all the memories.

Access Humanizing Brand Experience

Gunnar Jacobs
May 4, 2018 By Gunnar Jacobs