What does patient experience mean to you? Is it defined by good outcomes of procedures or care? Having a new or updated facility that’s easy to navigate? Seamless integration of medical records? Adequate doctor/nurse to patient empathy and communication?

The answer should be all of the above.

But what do all of these have in common? They take place within the four walls of a hospital. However, the true definition of patient experience, well stated by The Beryl Institute, includes the “sum of all interactions, shaped by an organization’s culture, that influence patient perceptions across the continuum of care.” Many of those interactions happen outside those four walls.

What Nordstrom Can Teach Hospitals About Patient Experience

Taking ownership of those interactions, which in turn shapes consumer opinions and perceptions, begins with mastering the patient experience along the entire consumer journey—from awareness and consideration even before someone has a healthcare need all the way through advocacy and what happens after someone has left your hospital.

So, to master the entirety of the patient experience, hospitals need to be consumer-centric and think retail. Take Nordstrom for example. Nordstrom is almost as known for its customer service as it is for the products it sells. How can hospitals learn from that?

Before You Buy

Even if you are not a Nordstrom customer, or have never shopped there before, you likely have some impression of the brand. Nordstrom speaks broadly in mass marketing, building awareness and generating positive perceptions. They research and understand their customers and even build personas with personalities and, coincidentally enough, outfits to match the interests and styles of those personas.

Hospitals should absolutely follow suit. Commanding brand perception includes shaping it in the mind of consumers who may not have had an experience with you. To do that, you must truly understand consumers and how they make decisions. What does the healthcare consumer want from their experience? How do they want to be communicated with? How can you exceed their expectations? Crafting an experience in line with those needs is key to positive brand reputation.

Personalized Service

Nordstrom is constantly gathering information on you as you browse and buy online or use their mobile app. When you enter the store, associates are armed with details on what you have bought in the past, what you like, and even what you shopped for but couldn’t find. Then they use that information to personalize your in-person interactions and ensure it is as smooth and simple as possible, both in-person as well as through direct mail, email, and mobile texting.

In healthcare, people want to be treated like human beings, not clinical cases. They yearn for relationships with their providers and someone to ease their fear and anxiety. Knowing patients beyond a number on a chart and personalizing their experience by knowing and focusing on what’s most important to them will go a long way in leaving a lasting, positive impression.

Closing the Gap

Say you buy a pair of shoes from Nordstrom. A few weeks later, you receive a handwritten note from the associate checking in on how you like the shoes. A month later, he or she contacts you to let you know that another pair of shoes you were looking at are on sale and offers to put them on hold for you. How’s that for quality service? It’s a personal connection that they’ve developed which adds real value and deepens the overall brand relationship.

Following Nordstrom’s examples, hospitals need to close the gap by engaging patients both to establish a relationship and add value beyond the visit. Using technology, such as text messages or email marketing, to provide useful and timely reminders or set expectations is a simple way to add value. And the experience shouldn’t end once a person leaves your hospital or medical office—hospitals have to connect throughout the entire consumer journey by checking in, offering advice, or even providing discounts on wellness programs to help close the loop and inspire brand loyalty and advocacy.


It’s possible for a patient to have a great experience in your hospital, only to have that overshadowed by something negative that happens once they leave. In fact, it’s even possible for someone who’s never been a patient to have a negative experience with your brand that deters them from choosing you as a provider. Hospitals and health systems should take note on the ways retail organizations care for and manage their brand to create positive patient experiences outside the store to prevent that from happening.

Fortunately, healthcare marketing is a great way to establish relationships, set expectations, and close the gap between visits. SPM has been doing just that for clients for nearly 30 years. Want to know more? Give us a shout!

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Patti Winegar

Managing Partner at SPM Marketing & Communications
With over two decades of experience at the world’s largest consumer agencies, Patti has helped build brands for Fortune 500 companies and complex healthcare organizations alike. Applying her unique insight, Patti helps clients reinvent, reinvigorate or rebuild their brands while guiding them through healthcare’s strategic business challenges and growth opportunities. Patti also spearheaded The SPM℠ American Health & Life Study, which adds greater impact to client campaigns.

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