By Umar Shaikh
The employees of Apple retail stores are given a central mandate: to understand all of their customers’ needs – some of which they might not even realize existed.  This philosophy drives the retail chains of the all-time most valuable company. Next time you head to the Apple store, direct your attention to the vibrant display, empowered staff, and comfortable beanbag chairs. The store design simply exudes ‘attentive’ innovation. Key to Apples success are philosophies that promote radical management and create a complete customer experience. Similarly, in order for the Canadian healthcare system to provide a complete patient experience, they must adopt these philosophies.
Empower the First Point of Contact: According to the Apple employee training manual, the steps to service include “Approaching customers with a personalized warm welcome,” and “Ending with a fond farewell and a personalized invitation back.”1 By asking open-ended questions and following up with supportive commentary, Apple Store employees are trained to build relationships with their potential customers.
In walk-in clinics, the receptionist is the first and last point of contact; her responsibilities mirror those of Apple employees in that she meets patients and schedules any further appointments with the patient. However, patients remain dissatisfied and restless in waiting rooms, which carry over to their interactions with doctors.
How can we improve the patient’s first point of contact experience? Remove the receptionist’s desk. The desk creates a barrier between the patients and their contact. While the receptionist does not play a primary role in the patient’s health, the psychological implications of a positive initial impression can have everlasting effects on patient satisfaction. Furthermore, removing the desk would improve face-to-face interactions and when coupled with open-ended questions that probe for the patients needs, creates a unique therapeutic experience for the patient.
Utilize Existing Technology to Provide Flexibility: The Apple Genius Bar presents the customer with opportunities to book their appointments online. Customers can go to the Apple website, find the closest store and schedule the next available appointment with an Apple representative.
In Alberta, a clinician introduced an online system, which allowed his patients to book their appointments on their own. He leveraged Electronic Medical Records (EMR), set a number of appointments per week, and implemented a surcharge for any missed appointments.Patients logged in using their provincial health number, selected one of five appointment types, and entered their information for a follow-up reminder.
Enabling patients to take control of their appointments makes their healthcare manageable. As the patient inputs information, it creates a familiarity between clinical staff and patient. Here’s a scenario: a patient books an ‘injury’ appointment and provides his provincial health number and other contact information. The clinic integrates the information into the system which the staff review prior the appointment. When the patient arrives at the facility, the receptionist greets the patient at the door and asks open-ended questions to further probe for any information that may assist the physician. She checks him into the system, guides him to his seat, and reassures the patient that he will meet with the doctor shortly.
Create a Learning Experience: A simple and unique way Apple turns browsers into buyers is by implementing the ‘wow’ factor. Every employee is using an Apple gadget in their work environment, whether its managing appointments or cashing out a customer, the smartphone or tablet is the cornerstone of productivity. As the customer interacts with employees in the Apple store, they have no choice but to be taken back by the practical uses for Apple gadgets. In addition, the myriad of available displays, one-to-one sessions and age-friendly software create an environment, which cultivates interest. Often overlooked is the use of tablet technology to provide a learning experience for the patient. The Ottawa hospital has used iPads to manage patient information, improve workflow and exchange X-Rays and CT scans. 
Ultimately, healthcare is a commodity which must be delivered efficiently. Removing the receptionist desk empowers the first point of contact, employing online appointment management software enables the patient, and leveraging tablet technology creates the potential for a full patient experience necessary in improving patient satisfaction.
To part, I leave you with the words of Mike Markkula, one of the first inventors of Apple. He stated that the Apple Marketing Philosophy revolved around 3 points: empathy, the ability to have an intimate connection with the feelings of the customer. Focus, in order to be great at all the things you decide to do, you must eliminate all the unimportant opportunities. And third, impute. People form an opinion about a company from the signals that it conveys, people DO judge a book by its cover, you may have the best product from the brightest minds, but if its provided in a slipshod manner, it will be perceived as slipshod.
 Secrets From Apple’s Genius Bar: Loyalty, No Negativity. Updated: 2011
 Ludwick, Dave and Doucette, John. (2009). Improve Office Efficiency by Putting your Patients to Work. Alberta, Canada: Electronic HealthCare.
 Apple Canada. “The Ottawa Hospital.” Updated: 2012 http://www.apple.com/ca/ipad/business/profiles/ottawa-hospital/
 Fast Company. “The 6 Pillars of Steve Jobs Design Philosophy” Updated: 2011. http://www.fastcodesign.com/1665375/the-6-pillars-of-steve-jobss-design-philosophy
This article is published under the Bright Ideas project, a joint Ivey International Centre for Health Innovation and NationalHealthWatch.ca initiative aimed at promoting ideas of future leaders and generating dialogue. Over the course of the next three months, Bright Ideas will profile blogs from Ivey health stream students.
The views expressed in these blogs are the opinions of their authors, and do not necessarily reflect those of the International Centre for Health Innovation or NationalHealthWatch.ca.