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What providers can learn from theme parks and entertainment about trusted healthcare experiences

All cultural entities based on experiences – theme parks, museums, and other education experiences – are designed to build relationships with consumer trust. Ultimately that is what we in healthcare want to do, too.

I am a scientist by training and have worked in experience design for over 25 years. For me, healthcare marries everything I believe about science’s power to meaningfully help communities with the trust-building I embrace in experience design.

In healthcare, we need our patients, their families, and their communities to trust us. When there’s a crisis, patients need to know staff and clinicians will work well with one another. This relationship with trust is also the basis of successful experience design.

Trust in the Disney Cruise experience during COVID-19

In mid-March, given the explosion of COVID-19, it was telling to look at the response of Disney Cruise Line. For years Disney Cruise Line had been at the top of the business in terms of health and safety. They were ahead of health and wellness measures in the cruise industry, such as having handwashing service and hand wipes in every food service area, long before many other cruise lines did as standard operating procedures. Guests trusted the Disney experience overall.

As soon as the virus began to spread, Disney started messaging very intentionally to everyone booked on cruises for the next few months. But more than that, Disney had built up such a strong relationship of trust with guests, that given the situation at the time, it did not see the high rate of cancellations other cruise lines did. Guests who did cancel often cited specific individual risk factors.

Watching the online conversation from guests at the time, it was clear they weren’t keeping their plans because they thought Disney would deliver a great time in the midst of a pandemic, but because this entertainment company would keep their families safe and healthy. This came from the relationship of trust born from the holistic, 360-degree experience management process Disney undertakes.

Experience management principles and building trust in healthcare

As theme park or museum guests, we tend to think of the experience as only the things we see: beautiful rides, amazing environments, cool exhibits, the way staff interact with us. We tend not to think of all that goes on behind the scenes. In experience management, we consider everything that goes on. We break this down into four basic principles, which are all very important in healthcare:

  • When we talk about People in healthcare, we’re looking at the actual patients, their family members and the communities that surround them. We’re also considering clinicians, staff and every single person who engages with the system.


  • For healthcare, Places include not only “front-of-house” areas like waiting rooms and patient exam rooms, but also the supporting spaces, such as labs, offices, and the ways that staff and clinicians move around. This also covers every place people find information or engage with healthcare content. Much of this is no longer delivered in a clinical space. It’s delivered at home, so telehealth systems fall under this category as well.


  • Platforms consist of every way healthcare information is delivered. While digital platforms are huge today, non-digital ones like posters, mailers, ads and even in-person conversations with clinicians, are just as important to manage.


  • Healthcare consumers tend not to see Processes as disparate. As a patient, if I go to one healthcare site and am referred to another, I perceive each site as under the same umbrella. For me, every episode of care is part of the same journey that filters up to my primary provider, so every step is essential to my experience. How providers handle patients, handoffs, communications in crisis situations and all contingency plans all fall under process.

All of these together create the healthcare experience, for patients, families, communities, staff, and clinicians.

By carefully considering people, places, platforms, and processes, both at the front-of-house for guests and back-of-house for staff, Disney led customers to trust the safety of their cruise ships in the middle of a pandemic. This is a really huge lesson to take forward for patient engagement in healthcare. If Disney can build that strong of a trust relationship around health, we can as well.

For more examples of successful experience design in healthcare, listen to the Allscripts podcast interview with Cynthia Sharpe.

Allscripts has the solutions you need to combat the spread of COVID-19. Learn more here

As Principal of Cultural Attractions and Research, Cynthia Sharpe is responsible for bringing guest behavior, museum, and education perspectives to Thinkwell Group projects. Her 20 year experience spans from museum shows to multi-use destination resort planning. In her work, Cynthia combines content, behavioral theory, best practices in pedagogy, and creative direction for a range of clients.

Cynthia holds an MS in Genetics from the University of Chicago and a BA in Biology from Williams College. Along with an extensive list of publications, presentations, and panels, she has served on a variety of industry boards and is the recipient of the 2018 Roy L. Shafer Leading Edge Award for executive leadership from the Association of Science-Technology Centers.

Comments 1

  1. Jeanne Armstrong 04/21/2020

    great insight; as a physician, I have often witnessed that the front – front of the house rarely gets the attention and care in planning it deserves; and when you extend that to all the ancillary care settings, the need to design the customer experience at every step becomes obvious and mandatory for improved outcomes

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