America has a culture of consumerism. In order to stay competitive (or even to stay in business), companies have to go the extra mile to give customers products and services faster, more cheaply and with a great attitude. This last aspect – the customer experience – is what truly sets great companies apart from good ones.

This willingness to go the extra mile is missing in some industries, usually those where we need a product or service and have few options for where to obtain it. One of the best examples may be health care.

Patients have limited options when it comes to the doctors they can see and the facilities they can visit, either because of geography or their insurance coverage. And although medical facilities and staff focus on reducing medical errors and negligence, they may do little else to improve the patient experience.

Thankfully, some hospitals and medical teams are striving for more than simple error prevention. They are working to reduce the harm and suffering that comes with inattentive care. Examples of preventable suffering include:

  • Waking up patients unnecessarily in the middle of the night to draw blood or administer medications
  • Giving bad news to patients in an uncaring or nonchalant manner
  • Embarrassing patients by discussing sensitive medical information too loudly around other patients
  • Keeping patients waiting for too long after they arrive at their appointment
  • Failing to listen to patients or respond to their concerns

Although the harms mentioned above rarely rise to the level of medical malpractice, they nonetheless cause patient suffering in a profession whose members swear an oath of “first do no harm.” Moreover, hospitals and physicians willing to go the extra mile to reduce patient suffering also tend to be conscientious about all aspects of their practice, including the prevention of much larger and more serious errors.

Health care is distinctly different from the retail and hospitality industries, but it could nonetheless learn some important lessons on how best to treat its customers.

Source: The New York Times, “Doctors Strive to Do Less Harm by Inattentive Care,” Gina Kolata, Feb. 17, 2015