Solving Parking Challenges: Convenience is the New Currency

“An ambulance ride is probably the best way to get into this hospital,” a patient observed to me recently. “It avoids all the parking lot aggravation here.” I don’t think it was meant as a joke.

Parking at many medical office buildings and hospitals is genuinely an obstacle to obtaining care—and a patient experience black mark— long before they see a doctor or complete a HCAHPS survey.

It’s a familiar picture and it’s likely that you can relate. (I know I can.) Patient and visitor parking is configured “in the back,” while employees, doctors and staff parking is “in the front.” To add insult to injury, many facilities charge patients, friends and family members a hefty fee for the inconvenient parking.

In addition to the obvious slam to patient experience, our point is: What other business—consumer or retail business—would barricade themselves from buyers with constrained access to the front door? What enterprise would not put the convenience of the “paying customer” as a top, and obviously important, priority to doing business?

“Parking challenges” are not over-blown minor gripes…

As Micah Solomon writes in Forbes.com, Improving The Hospital Patient Customer Experience (It’s About More Than HCAHPS Scores), “It’s not as if patients stop [or start] being consumers—customers—when they put on a hospital gown.”

It turns out that parking issues are among the most common consumer concerns about hospitals. But fortunately, many of the more progressive hospitals—of all sizes, by the way—have recognized that the consequences for both the facility and the patient can be troublesome:

  • Parking congestion results in missed appointments
  • Patients report stress and anxiety from parking inconvenience
  • Sick, crutch- or wheelchair-bound individuals have mobility limitations
  • Some patients, unable to pay the fees for parking, will skip medical care
  • Slip-trip-fall or OSHA access lawsuits

What to do instead…

While the connection with improving patient experience is obvious (especially for patients and visitors), implementing a “parking lot cure” can be a challenge. But healthcare providers, medical buildings and hospitals are beginning to raise the bar for customer service expectations.

  • Dozens of hospitals across the nation have instituted valet parking services. Often it’s free; with some available 24/7.
  • Parking is free, reduced fee or validated for patients. Free parking is the most consumer friendly option, providing a wide “access-to-care” option. What’s more, the revenue generated from hospital parking operations is often a fraction of a percent of the budget, perhaps better viewed as an investment in customer satisfaction than as a potential profit center.
  • The Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital (Valencia, CA) offers a complimentary shuttle service (as well as free parking) on the hospital campus.
  • Cleveland Clinic Parking Services recognizes that the art of compassion includes the parking garage, where attendants may be the first encounter with the facility. Parking services personnel focus on “patients first” and customer service through a culture of teamwork and engagement.
  • Patient Support Services—sometimes via contract businesses—can include patient transportation, surgical patient car service and ambassador/greeter programs.

Convenience is the new competitive currency

Hospitals, medical office towers and health care providers are increasingly recognizing that the patient’s “parking experience” is an important dynamic. Frequently this is an early or first-experience moment that can set the tone for all that follows in the patient experience.

And from a marketing perspective, patient convenience and satisfaction have become the competitive currency of doing business with a new retail-customer mindset. Healthcare providers that differentiate themselves with positive service features have a powerful competitive advantage.

Begin at your parking lot and take a few minutes to follow the patient’s path. Patients are the “paying customer” arriving at your “storefront” and prepared to make a purchase. Can you imagine a department store blockading its entry?

What can you do to ease the patient journey and enhance patient experience and satisfaction?

Stewart Gandolf, MBA

Stewart Gandolf, MBA

About Stewart Gandolf, MBA

Stewart Gandolf, MBA, is both the Publisher of PatientExperience.com and the Co-Founder of Healthcare Success Strategies. Stewart has written for dozens of leading healthcare publications and spoken at hundreds of venues on a variety of topics including marketing, reputation management and patient experience. Additionally, he has personally consulted for over 1,500 hospitals and practices. Prior to becoming an entrepreneur, Stewart worked for leading advertising agencies including J. Walter Thompson.

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