specialMy family and I just got back from a fabulous Disney vacation. It was our kids’ spring break and arguably one of the most popular times to visit Walt Disney World. Regardless, we ventured to the happiest place on earth for a week of fun in the sun.

This week also happened to coincide with my youngest child’s seventh birthday. As former Disney cast members, my husband and I knew that Guest Relations (customer service at the entrance to every theme park) had special buttons for special occasions. So we stopped in and asked for a Happy Birthday button. They handed us one along with a sharpie so we could write her name. She proudly wore that button on each of the five days we were in the theme parks (note: in our family, if you’re seven years old you can celebrate your birthday for the whole week!) As she walked through the parks and the resorts, nearly every cast member (employee) we encountered wished her a Happy Birthday! Some even took the time to read her name and personalize the greeting by saying Happy Birthday Bridget!

At one point she forgot she had the button on and an Epcot park greeter stopped to chat with her. His name was Javier and he was from Puerto Rico. He had the brightest smile and as he bent his knee to get down to her eye level he said Hi Bridget, welcome to Epcot! Mickey told me you were coming and that you’re celebrating a birthday ~ Happy Birthday! And he offered her a high-five (which she returned immediately). She was amazed! We hadn’t even walked into Epcot yet – in fact, we were barely out of the parking lot – and yet she was already on cloud nine. Her day was made. All because of a little button on her shirt.

You may have seen these buttons before. Disney has them for every occasion. Birthdays, anniversaries, honeymoon, first Disney visit. They even have blank buttons so you can personalize your celebration. I don’t know what they cost but it can’t be that much. Fifty cents maybe? Less? Who knows. All I know is that they’re a wonderful way to make the experience of being among tens of thousands of people seem more personal.

Personalizing experiences is what people crave. And it’s possible to do it in literally every scenario and in every organization no matter how large or small.

Jake often tells the story of an elderly patient he encountered while shadowing some doctors on rounds. After the doctor completed the clinical check-in, Jake asked the woman if there was anything he could do to make her stay a bit more comfortable. She hesitated at first and then shyly asked if she could have a piece of birthday cake, adding that it was her 100th birthday. Needless to say Jake and the doctor were shocked. How could they have missed such a milestone when they had her electronic medical record right at their fingertips! And how had the entire care team missed this?

Jake and the doctor wished the woman a Happy Birthday and then they checked her dietary restrictions and made arrangements for her to have a piece of cake to celebrate her special day. She was so happy and I’m sure it made her stay in the hospital a little more bearable.

The primary purpose of hospitals and care facilities, obviously, is to administer care to patients. However, there are always opportunities to surround the clinical care with a little attention on the human side of healthcare, too. Maybe there’s a way to program EMR’s to flag if a patient’s birthday is happening soon. Or maybe the food services staff can keep a birthday cake or two, suitable for adults or kids, at the ready so all the care team has to do is make a quick call to the kitchen to create a special moment. And it’s about more than just birthdays. Is the patient a veteran or currently serving in the military? Perhaps a small flag in their room or a “thank you” note would personalize their stay (even better if it’s close to Veterans’ Day.) 

Proactive anticipation is the key. So how can your care team proactively anticipate special moments for patients and families?