Wellness Innovation at a Major Hospital

I was shocked to discover on a recent visit that a giant but innovative local hospital system has implemented a break-through in wellness. They have adapted some of the industry's leading-edge employee wellness techniques and made them work for patients visiting their hospital, thus adding a whole new dimension in the way they make their patients healthy. Much like my previous report of a EMR interchange break-through, it's so radical and unexpected I wouldn't have believed it unless I had experienced it myself.

Employee Wellness

There has been growing recognition that healthy, happy employees are productive and good for business. There has also been growing recognition that being healthy goes way beyond responding effectively when you get sick. People increasingly understand that when you're active, fit, engaged and have good eating habits, you are more likely to be healthy and happy.

There's an amazing Oak HC/FT company that's at the forefront of this movement, Limeade. Here's their summary of what they do:

You can see that they clearly understand the relationship between wellness and health.

Even the picture implies that getting people moving, fit and engaged is a major key to success.

Wellness for patients in the hospital

Hospitals are all about old-style health, i.e., responding effectively when people get sick. But some hospitals are really innovative. I visited one today, and the banner they had proudly hanging in a busy central hallway made their commitment to innovation clear.

I admit I thought their innovations were limited to "just" making sick people better. Hah! They are actually pioneering the application of modern wellness techniques to patients visiting for treatment!

Wellness techniques

I guess it's worth reviewing briefly what some of the most important techniques are. I don't think it's mysterious; most people know what they are:

  • Exercise. Without exercise, good things don't happen. You've got to move those muscles!
  • Heart Rate. Yes, you can lazily move your muscles. But that's not exercise -- you've got to elevate your heart rate, so that key muscle also gets exercise!
  • Mental exercise. Particularly as you age, exercising your mind in new ways helps keep you young. But even for young people, learning new things and thinking outside your normal comfort zone can give you a major boost.
  • Wellness during a hospital visit

    It would be one thing for a stodgy old hospital to put up signs that encouraged wellness. No big deal! But that's not what these guys did. The very best techniques are ones that don't feel like a burden. They "trick" you into doing something you might think is fun, and along they way, something good takes place, like wellness in this case. It's called "game-i-fi-cation." And that's exactly what I experienced during the course of a normal, every-day visit for a diagnostic procedure at this amazing hospital.

    The game started before I got in the door. I was given the address: right on Fifth Avenue, that can't be too hard. But right away, I couldn't find it! I walked up and down the street, finding addresses that are larger and smaller than the one I had been given, and finally concluded that this numberless entrance was probably the right one.

    You might think that this is just someone having trouble finding an address. But it's really the low-key start of the game -- they draw you in slowly. I looked and looked, and there just was no number! In retrospect, the conclusion is obvious: this is the building in which wellness is slyly delivered to improve everyone's health.

    I walked in and found myself in a huge open space. Where should I go?

    I walked and turned my head as I went and finally noticed the place where it had to be:

    This is surely it -- it's clearly labelled cardio-vascular repeatedly, and I was having a heart test. Done. Still clueless about the wellness being delivered to me, I walked in and talked with the nice ladies at the counter. After they determined that I wasn't in the process of dying in front of them, they returned to what they were doing and eventually found out who I was and what I wanted. Oops. I'm in the wrong place. I should return to the giant hall and ask the guard.

    Eventually, the helpful guard pointed and gave directions involving walking, turning left and/or right, and going through various doors. Here's the view at this point:

    It's a good thing I paid attention, because part of the game is the absence of signs and directions. The theme of finding the right building was intensified once you were inside. And I was beginning to get anxious. While I had left lots of time, this was taking a while, and I didn't want to be late.

    I followed the directions carefully and eventually found myself at another counter with friendly people. After identifying myself, I received another set of directions involving things like going straight that way until you get to the grey doors, then go through them and immediately turn right until you get to the end of the hall ... well, leaving out details, I found another counter.

    Please pay attention to the pattern here, and notice the clear and obvious relationship to wellness techniques:

    • Exercise. Definitely.
    • Heart rate. I didn't walk that fast, but those clever people managed to get my heart rate up by inducing anxiety!
    • Mental exercise. Definitely. Finding the place was at least as good as a Pokemon search! Not having signs or directions is part of the plan! They're really committed to this wellness thing -- imagine the trouble they took to assure that all the old signs were removed.

    Finally I got to what turned out to be the right place:

    But needless to say, my adventure wasn't over. What's a visit to a health professional without a good solid dose of papers with minuscule print, the obvious result of welfare work for lawyers and bureaucrats? But I got a break. Whoever designed the system decided that after such a large and unexpected dose of wellness, the patient should be given a light load of paperwork.

    It was laughably small.

    And to put it in context, dealing with it was a good way to "cool down" after my adventure in exercise, heart rate elevation and mind stretching achieved by next-generation, gamified wellness techniques.

    With any luck, other hospitals will copy this amazing innovation. Who knows, maybe some of them already are!

    But that's how hospitals are!

    Yes, you're right. But it doesn't have to be that way. Retail stores, for example, compete for customers. They compete on multiple dimensions -- product selection, quality and price, but also convenience and overall customer experience. There is no reason why hospitals couldn't pay some moderate amount of attention to the people who are, after all, their paying customers.

    Giant, multi-national companies like Ikea, which is many times larger than any hospital, show that it's possible. Ikea puts real effort into creating a good customer experience. Which includes helping customers go where they need to go. They have a mobile app which helps you. They have maps:

    And they have signs in the stores, even on the floor and hanging from the ceiling:

    Hospitals aren't too big. Their executives are not under-paid. They just have to care.