The healing power of sensory experiences

April 15, 2009

I was reading the book Revolutionize Your Customer Experience by Colin Shaw and came across the following excerpt from Duane Francis, CEO, Mid-Columbia Medical Center, The Dalles, OR:

“We want to create a non-institutional environment where patients can feel more like individuals and valued as a whole human being, rather than just a diagnosis in bed three, or the injury in bed two, and being treated as a transaction. Therefore we have created an environment that is susceptible to healing. For example, we use a lot of water features in our facility. We have a waterfall in an open-air atrium: there is open-air access from all of the floors of our hospital, where you can hear the sound of cascading water. We also use salt-water aquariums because we know it creates a soothing and calming environment. We have fully stocked kitchens on every patient floor where we invite the volunteers, loved ones, or community members to come in and bake cookies or fresh baked bread because the smells wafting down the hall create a “homey” environment and a sense and feeling that is not stressful, and is actually designed to reduce stress. We spend a lot of time on those environment issues, what the patients see, taste, touch, and smell.”

Mid-Columbia Medical Center is well on its way to providing patients with memorable customer experiences. Consider its focus on the sense of smell (e.g., baked cookies or fresh baked bread) alone:

Memories, imagination, and associations are more readily reached through the sense of smell than through any other channel. In humans there are four genes for vision, whereas there are 1,000 allocated to scent, which means we have the ability to differentiate more than 10,000 odors. According to the Sense of Smell Institute, 75 percent of all emotions we generate are due to what we smell.

The results are amazing. Overall length of stay has steadily declined even though the level of average illness that Mid-Columbia Medical Center sees with its patients has gone steadily up. They are able to admit patients and treat them in a shorter amount of time. In essence, they are healing faster.

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