New curriculum gives medical schools a dose of hospitality

Lam Family College of Business professor develops first-ever hospitality-focused curriculum for medical students

“Laughter is the best medicine,” the old saying goes. But according to San Francisco State University Assistant Professor of Management Priyanka Joshi, medical practitioners don’t need to be hilarious. They just need to be more hospitable.

A patient-centered service mentality is at the heart of a new hospitality curriculum developed for medical schools by Joshi and three colleagues. The curriculum encourages medical providers to put thought into every aspect of a patient’s experience, from waiting room décor to how appointments are scheduled to the number of available parking spots. The result, Joshi says, won’t just be happier patients. It will be healthier ones.

“Recent research shows a patient’s experience of care is not just determined by the quality of their doctor,” she said. “All these secondary factors influence whether a patient believes their doctor is competent, whether they trust their doctor, whether they will follow their doctor’s treatment recommendations and whether they will continue to see their doctor.”

The first-of-its-kind syllabus, published in the Journal of Patient Experience in August, borrows concepts, theories and models from the fields of service marketing, social psychology and management. It’s meant for medical students but can be adapted to dental or nursing programs, too, the research team reported.

In creating the groundbreaking medical education program, Joshi and her collaborators conducted an exhaustive review of research, poring through studies on doctor-patient relationships and customer experience. They also interviewed 13 experts on medical care, including university deans, practicing physicians and teaching physicians. First-year medical students at the University of Las Vegas, Nevada (UNLV) were taught portions of the curriculum in two workshops, and their feedback was rolled into the finalized curriculum.

One class assignment had medical students scanning Yelp reviews of a particular medical clinic. Students noticed that many patient complaints had nothing to do with the doctor’s manner or competence. Instead, they were about the billing department, the grumbling receptionist or the lack of parking. In the past, doctors might have assumed that such non-medical matters were none of their concern. That was wrong, says Joshi.

Patients seek out medical services for the core product — the doctor’s knowledge and ability to treat disease, she says. However; a patient’s evaluation of their doctor is influenced by the supplementary services they receive, which include the front desk services or how easy it is to work with the billing department.

“A bad experience with the supplementary services often results in a negative evaluation of the doctor. When a doctor thinks about the care they provide, they need to not just think about the core product but all these supplementary services that are a relection of who the doctor is,” she said.

If it seems the medical industry is behind the times when it comes to service and hospitality, that’s because in some ways it is, Joshi said. Only in the last 10 years has patient-centered care become a focus in medical schools and the industry.

Part of the problem is the limited view doctors have of themselves, Joshi says. Doctors see their role as healers or those who diagnose and resolve problems. But actually they are much more than that, and Joshi says she hopes she can help the next generation of doctors grasp that.

“Our curriculum encourages doctors to see themselves as educators, as counselors, as leaders, as people who are not just involved in treating patients but in providing a service to those patients,” she said.

Joshi says her goal is to reach medical students before they enter the workforce and are influenced by more seasoned doctors. While few medical schools have programs dedicated to patient experience, she hopes schools adopt pieces of the hospitality-centered curriculum she helped create and fold it into existing programs. In the meantime, she plans to catch up with the UNLV medical students who took the workshop to see what aspects of their training stuck with them through their residency programs and practicing physicians.

Stowe Shoemaker (Harrah’s Hospitality College), Corrin C. Sullivan (UNLV Medical School) and Neelesh R. Soman (Mountain View Hospital) were co-authors on the curriculum.