Little things can be a big deal to patients.

I remember my mother describing the warmth and coziness of the robe she was given at her last mammogram. When she slipped it on, it helped her relax and it created a pleasant experience.

At one of our client hospitals, the housekeeping team folds the end of the toilet paper into a little triangle when cleaning patient bathrooms, just like they do at nice hotels. This little touch is a signal to patients that the bathroom is clean and it gives them a little peace of mind.

There are lots of things we can do to make the patient experience a little better. Most ideas require little to no money or time – just a little creative thinking. I was reminded of this today when I brought my daughter to the orthodontist.

Ask any kid over the age of 12 or so how they feel about braces and the answers will likely be very similar. They’re annoying. I look weird. They give me a headache. What do you mean I can’t have chewy candy and treats and gum?!

In the quest for straighter teeth, braces have become a sort of rite of passage for many teens. The long days of dealing with retainers, palate expanders, rubber bands, snapped wires and the like are commonplace in middle and high school.

In our house, my 14-year-old has endured all of these things and more for the past four and a half years — including three pulled teeth; one broken retainer smashed by a rogue dinner pot lid; three snapped wires; and an almost-thrown-away replacement retainer which was mistakenly left on a lunch tray only to be fished out of the most disgusting garbage can hours later by one less than amused mother (me).

Of course, the pinnacle of this experience has to be the day when the braces finally come off. And for my daughter, today was that day. I snapped one last picture of her with a mouth full of metal before she settled into the orthodontist’s chair ready for the final step of this journey. Twenty minutes later she emerged beaming from ear to ear. Her gleaming white smile was unobstructed and simply perfect.

To help celebrate this happy moment, the staff at her orthodontist’s office cheered and told her how beautiful she looked, which only made her smile bigger and brighter. And then they surprised her with a big bag full of candy and gum ~ all the things she wasn’t permitted to eat while wearing braces. They didn’t have to do this and it certainly wasn’t anything she expected. (By the way – how weird is it to get a bag of candy and gum from a dentist’s office!)

Nevertheless, she accepted the bag and hugged the team that had cared for her these last four years. When we got in our car she took another look in the mirror at her metal-free smile and then she tore into the bag. She was finally able to enjoy a bag of gummi bears guilt-free.

What little things can you do at your hospital, practice, or facility to make things a little sweeter for patients and families? Maybe take five minutes at your next team meeting to brainstorm some ideas. Your patients already know you have the clinical expertise and knowledge to care for them; imagine how they’ll feel to receive a little unexpected surprise or kindness.