What Your Parking Garage Says About Your Hospital

First impressions are everything. How many times have we heard this? For me the idea of making a good first impression seems to have been embedded in my brain from birth, and I imagine it is no different for the rest of society. With most first impressions typically made in the first seven seconds of interaction and 55 percent of initial opinions formed on the basis of visual perceptions, it’s no surprise that we stress the importance of the first impression.

Think about how your life has been shaped by positive first impressions. Your spouse or partner, the café you frequent for coffee, your job, the market where you buy produce, or the daycare your children attend — would you have chosen these if the first impression had been poor? Probably not.

So, to our hospital administrators, with first impressions carrying so much weight in our decision-making, how do you make those first seven seconds count?

In recent years, with the transition to a value-based care model, we have seen hospital administrators take dramatic measures to ensure their hospitals make a positive first impression. For example, many hospital lobbies have undergone striking transformations and now mirror those seen in hotels. How many 3+ star hotels have you stayed at that lack an inviting lobby? I personally can’t think of any, and if I walked into a 3+ star hotel lobby that lacked that warm, inviting feeling of home, there is a good chance I would have low expectations for my stay and may not stay at all.

With the competitiveness of the healthcare industry now on par with that seen in the hospitality industry and all parties striving to deliver the best experience for their guests, it is understandable why this transition has happened. However, the lobby is often not the patient’s first point of contact with the hospital. For many patients, the parking garage is their first stop — the first opportunity for them to form a visual impression of the hospital (not to mention the service to be expected). So why does a lack of garage maintenance, cleanliness, and security still plague many facilities? Honestly, I believe it is because many hospital administrators feel that the state of their facility’s garage just doesn’t matter enough to make it a priority. However, neglecting the parking garage means you have missed an opportunity to establish a positive first impression of your hospital. From my perspective as a parking professional, I can tell you that an unkempt, poorly managed garage will bring three questions to the forefront of your patients’ minds:

Is this the quality of care I can expect?
Let’s face it, trash, stains, and dirty environments naturally make most people uncomfortable, and with the resources available in North America, there is NO EXCUSE for an untidy parking garage. There is also no excuse for an individual to litter, but it will always happen, and it’s not the next patient’s responsibility to tend to trash in their parking space.

This also applies to protection from bloodborne pathogens in the garage. I have encountered a latex glove or foreign substance on the ground in hospital garages many times. The origin of such items is unknown to patients and other guests, and these items may very well present a hazard to the patient, causing them to fear for their safety. Hospitals should treat these items as if they were inside the building.

The first impression an untidy garage creates is a lack of attention to detail. When receiving treatment by a trained professional, do you not want the utmost care and attention to detail? Of course you do. But if the hospital garage is uncomfortably dirty, what quality of care does this reflect?

Is this hospital safe?
This question is derived from two factors:

Given the size and design of most parking garages, they often have a cold, dark feel. But they don’t have to remain that way — thanks to the invention of the light bulb and paint, once again, there is NO EXCUSE for your garage to be anything less than inviting. There is no need to create more fear in a patient as a result of poor garage image.
Garages are generally exposed to both the elements of nature and a lot of cars every day. These combined lead to structural deficiencies as well as filth buildup. If left unattended, garages become quite the eyesore. If you are willing to leave a gaping hole or years of dirt buildup where patients park their cars, they can’t be blamed for wondering if they too will leave in a worse condition than when they arrived.
Are there sufficient resources available for my care?
If a patient is choosing to seek treatment at your facility and sees that the parking garage is in disarray as a result of poor maintenance, what does this say to them about your financial outlook? It’s no secret that healthcare in America is very expensive, and it can be very difficult to turn a profit in a hospital. But even if your hospital is performing above average financially, your patients don’t know this; they can only develop assumptions based on their experiences. And if the first thing your patients see is a messy garage, this is bound to raise some doubt in their minds. The idea that a hospital would skimp on something very visual that accounts for so much of a first impression makes your patients wonder: where else is the hospital cutting corners?

The moral of the story here is perception is EVERYTHING! Hospital administrators know that if the inside of a facility is visibly in disarray, the HCAHPS questions under “The Hospital Environment” pointing at cleanliness will yield poor remarks. This will, in turn, hurt the overall score of the facility, potentially undermining financial performance and tarnishing the hospital’s reputation. First impressions are formed when a patient arrives on campus, not at admission.

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