I often joke that running a clinical laboratory is a lot like being in the hotel business – our clients are just as hard to please. In the hotel business, the pillows are never soft enough, room service is never fast enough, and the front desk could always be more helpful – likewise, we frequently hear that our test turnaround time could be faster, reports are too hard to read, and it is not always easy to reach a pathologist or lab professional for questions. And it's not just us – all of health care is being evaluated and measured by patient satisfaction scores. Even Yelp includes comments and ratings about physicians and hospitals — not too different than checking out hotels for your next vacation or restaurant ratings for your next dinner out.

So my long-standing joke about being in the hotel business is turning out to not be such a joke after all. In fact, many hospitals and health systems are hiring patient experience officers with previous careers and/or education in hospitality to create a more hospitable hospital or clinic.

What does this mean for us in the laboratory? Most of us don't even have a direct interaction with patients, so how do we impact the patient and client experience? And do we even have the skills? Do we need to start getting our continuing education at hotel management school??

In a recent white paper on patient experience published by the Harvard Business review, the authors note that everyone who comes into contact with the patient along their journey creates the patient experience. The experience around diagnostics and the quality of the associated technology was specifically called out as an important element in improving overall patient experience. High quality, well-maintained equipment operated by experts (i.e, us!) delivers the most accurate and timely results and has a huge influence on a positive patient experience. After all, waiting to find out a diagnosis can be one of the most frustrating and anxiety-provoking aspects of being a patient. Likewise, making test results available through technologies in the electronic medical record like MyChart or through telepathology or other electronic interfaces to providers elsewhere improves communication and speeds up care, creating a positive experience.

But it is not just our technology – engaged employees who make an effort to positively represent the organization adds to the experience, too. Every time that I stay in a hotel, I notice how each employee that I meet – housekeepers in hallways, bell staff in elevators – make a point of making eye contact, saying hello, and wishing me a good day which inevitably leaves me with a warm and positive impression of the place. Recently, the chief patient experience office from another health system was a visiting speaker to our Council of Chairs and shared his institution's campaign to be friendlier, and the positive results that have come from this. They even had a “phone down, eyes up” program when in hallways or elevators to encourage more eye contact and human interaction. The positive results have gone beyond just the patient experience – the employees are more positive, too. Being friendly and nice makes a difference to all.

Clearly, there are many facets to patient experience – patients want empathy, they want services delivered by professionals who are good listeners and who are compassionate, as well as highly skilled. It is hard to be all of this and always have a smile when the going gets tough, when there are difficult decisions to be made, and when bad things happen because patients are very sick and we can't make them better. But I especially loved the advice from our visiting patient experience officer – he noted that the patient experience is best when delivered by employees who appreciate the greater purpose behind their work and when they feel connected to each other.

No one has a greater purpose than we do – everyone who works at UC Davis Health plays a role in improving lives and transforming health for our patients, our communities and the world. The plushest hotel can't rival our purpose. And we get to work in teams of dedicated colleagues who are all committed to this mission – we are connected by a bond that few others can offer.

Since February is Valentine's Day, I think it's the right time to show a little love to each other and celebrate our common inspirational purpose and team spirit. Make eye contact with employees and with patients and families and say hello when you pass in the hallway or on the sidewalk. You'll improve the employee experience and the patient experience, and you'll ensure that “hospital” is fully recognized in the word “hospitality.”