Missing The Disney Gene


Sometimes when you are on the beach you find yourself doing things you don’t particularly like because others who are important to you love doing those things. That is the reason I found myself at Disneyland last week with my older son and his family.

I am baffled by why so many people love the Magic Kingdom.  It was crowded even during a week in February when all those kids should be in school spreading their germs rather than doing it in Anaheim.

What puzzles me the most is how the presence of Disney employees  dressed in character costumes make grown people lose their sense of dignity.  Kids going bonkers over a facsimile of Mickey Mouse or Goofy I can understand. However, what is up with the adults?  I saw grown women elbowing away little kids so that they could do selfies with Chip and Dale and Pluto.  I’m a Minnie Mouse type myself.

Even more baffling is the riot that ensues every “Magic Morning”.  That is the early entry every morning for a select few a hour before the usual opening time.  The select few number well into the thousands.  You gain entry to the park after undergoing a security check and then are corralled at the end of Main Street awaiting a signal to start your strollers.  When it comes, bedlam erupts as thousands of Moms pushing strollers rush pell mell up Main Street to gain early entry to rides.  In our case, we veered to the right heading to Fantasyland to get to the Peter Pan ride.  By the time we parked our twin grandsons’ stroller in the designated parking space (yes, Disney has parking spaces for strollers), the Peter Pan line was 30 minutes long.

I have come to the conclusion that I belong to a minority born without the Disney gene.  It can be a lonely existence as you wait two hours in line to take a five-minute ride.  For those with the gene, the time flies!

Even not possessing the gene, however, I have come to appreciate the way Disney delivers a consistently great experience.  They are in many ways a model worthy of emulation.

Some years ago I heard the late Fred Lee, author of “If Disney Ran Your Hospital: 9 1/2 Things You Would Do Differently”, give a presentation.  I was so impressed that I ordered a copy of his book for every one of my organization’s managers.  Eventually I arranged for him to give a series of seminars to the managers.  I think it made a big difference in how we approached patient care and particularly patient satisfaction.

I see interesting contrasts. Both Disney and healthcare organizations charge what is considered premium prices for what they provide.  Premium is a nicer way of saying high prices.  

Disney customers don’t complain about the prices; they keep coming back.  Disney has perfected no hands pick pocketing. No dollar bill goes unspent and no credit card goes unswiped when visiting Disney’s parks. This makes people happy. Disney is awesome!

Patients do complain about prices, even when the care is excellent.  A life can be saved and three weeks later you get a complaint about the bill. There is a disconnect in health care from the value proposition.  Patients don’t seem to think their experience was worth the cost.

Then there is the crowd factor. As I indicated previously, Disney fans don’t seem to be bothered by long lines and crowds. That is not the case in health care where long waits are deemed unacceptable.

A final contrast is the focus on making the experience better.  I was getting emails from Disney throughout my stay asking about my family’s experience about various aspects of our visit.  They knew which restaurants we ate at and what rides we took and they wanted to know that day how it had gone.

Healthcare organizations are also concerned about the experience of those we serve. We just don’t do a very good job in monitoring on a contemporaneous  basis that experience so that we can make adjustments as needed.

I understand that running theme parks is a different business than providing health care.  There is though much we can continue to learn from organizations like Disney which meet a different set of needs than we do in health care.

There is yet another gene which Disney has and many other organizations in health care and in other fields appear either to lack or have not activated. That gene has nothing to do with tolerance for large crowds or adults acting like kids. That second Disney gene is about a consistent commitment to doing things better.

I know we all try to do things better but our patients often don’t agree with the results. Time for some genetic engineering.




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