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What a Dead Rat Can Teach You About Hospital Public Relations and Patient Experience

By Stewart Gandolf, Chief Executive Officer
White and gray rat wearing pink bow tie next to pink flower

You don't want this ambassador

We’ll call this one the tale of the “dead rat ambassador.”

It's currently at the top of the list of real-life “horror stories,” in the category of negative hospital public relations and really bad patient experience. (We have photos, so we know it’s true, but who could make up this kind of stuff?)

On the positive side, this unpleasant tale (or tail?) illustrates valuable lessons about hospital public relations, patient experience, staff training and empowering people to take responsibility.

First, here’s the story; submitted from Southern California:

“At 9:00 this morning we were greeted by a dead rat at the entrance to [a major hospital]. That’s unfortunate, but such things can happen in a metropolitan area. We assumed the building maintenance department would want to know about the unattractive 'greeter,' so we called from a lobby phone.

“Amazingly, they told us that the person responsible for picking up the critter was on vacation and we were given another number to call—which was equally unproductive. Having made the effort, we continued on to our meeting. Several hours later we could see that the rodent was still there.”

We see several lessons in this unpleasantness:

1. Rodents—dead or alive—are not good “greeters.” The average person is going to give this a low score on the “patient experience” scale. All other aspects of the patient visit—no matter how friendly and positive—will not offset the first impression.

2. Common sense should not be “on vacation.” Nobody did anything because it was someone else's job. The buck was passed and the problem remained. Staff and employees should be empowered to quickly resolve a problem, even if it is outside of their normal duties. A lack of training and good judgment was evident. (A related article, How Empowerment Paves the Road of Patient Satisfaction, is here.) Organizations need policies, procedures and responsibilities, all with a dash of common sense about resolving non-SOP issues.

3. Bad news travels faster than good news. There’s little doubt that a patient would tell this terrible tale to friends and relatives via the sort of word-of-mouth that nobody likes. What’s more, it’s a negative patient experience that has already been repeated as a blog AND as a Facebook posting (with photo).

Let us know if you have a real world “disaster story” to share. Recently, we wrote about The Worst Physician Marketing Debacle Ever. Tell us what happened and what take-away lessons were learned.

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