The parking garage experience can often be the basis for patients' first impression of healthcare facilities. For most patients, the parking attendant is the first and the last person that they will meet at the hospital. Of all of the caregivers they encounter, this is the one that sets the initial impression upon arrival and locks in the final impression upon departure. Engaged employees are good, but employees that engage the patients and visitors are better. Unfortunately this is an area of the hospital that few leaders visit as they often do not understand how important it is to patient experience. Worse yet, many leaders seek to automate their parking experience. No matter how efficient automation may be, it is rarely welcoming.
Pay attention to the route patients follow from the parking garage to the lobby. Patient safety and patient experience are directly proportional — an increase in one improves the other. Ensure that it feels safe at all times of the day and night, that the signage is correct, that it offers places to rest. Reinforce the oasis of safety through appropriate lighting levels and visible security presence when applicable. Provide cover from exposure to weather when and where appropriate and pay careful attention to trip hazards and chokepoints.
Sidewalks should be at least wide enough to allow two wheelchairs to pass even if wheelchairs aren't normally allowed to follow that route — someone will find a way. Any encroachment into the sidewalk by plantings should be addressed; pedestrians should not feel like they have to walk in the street or even too close to the street. The path should be as level as the terrain will permit and any potholes, uplifting, or cracks should be addressed immediately as they can have negative impacts on patients with walkers.
Upon arriving in the lobby, the first thing every patient and visitor should see is a smile. Too many hospitals spend millions of dollars on their lobby during initial construction and not enough on their lobby staffing or maintenance. A warm smile in a clean and inviting space will be remembered longer and more fondly than marble finishes.
This is also the point where most patients start to notice inconsistencies in the hospital's message. Wayfinding often takes a back seat to the lobby decorations, surfaces chosen for architectural appeal are often hardest to maintain or the easiest to become root causes for slips, and very little thought is often given to how surfaces perform in different seasons.
Although most patients and visitors pass straight through the lobby, ensure sufficient thought goes into the comfort of any that may have to spend time there waiting on their transportation or as a getaway for visitors who need a place they can refresh and recharge apart from their sick loved ones. Having retail space adjacent to the lobby is important if these services are not offered within walking distance of the hospital, and these spaces provide a distraction to those that need it. Above all, have a central focus of the lobby be an information desk where patients and visitors can get help in finding their destination.
— Sue Pi and John D'Angelo
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