Lessons for health care from McDonald’s?

Health Care Lessons from McDonalds 2012-10-24

Over the last 15 years, I’ve had the privilege of traveling to many countries around the world for work and pleasure. And whether I’m in Indonesia or South Africa, Germany or Italy, England or Costa Rica, there is one thing I always do: eat at McDonald’s.

I know visiting the Golden Arches is probably the last thing someone working in health care should recommend. But trust me, the experience is absolutely fascinating.

Every country’s version of McDonald’s is slightly different, reflecting the dietary preferences of their culture (e.g., macaroon bakery in Paris, fried chicken with rice in Jakarata, a McCroissant in Germany). But what I’ve come to appreciate with each visit is the standardization of the products and services they provide. In fact, it’s often this very sameness — the familiar — that I’m seeking when I stop in.

In Dr. Shaw’s recent post (Resistance to Standard Work Preventing Better, Safer Care from Taking Flight), she said her flying experience reminded her of the need to standardize if we are going to improve safety. My recent experience with a McDonald’s restaurant in France reminded me about the importance of standardization, from the customer’s point of view.

When you’re visiting another country, it can be tough dealing with all the things that are different – language, food, customs, modes of transportation. The need to understand and adapt can be overwhelming and exhausting.

I recently accompanied my husband to Paris on a business trip. I was five months pregnant, sick with a cold, had experienced a “critical incident” with a beef tongue earlier in the trip, and was suffering with a bout of food poisoning. I was ready for the refuge of a McDonald’s.

Everything was familiar, from the staff uniforms, to the menu, to the layout of the restaurant. No surprises, no language issues, no confusing processes, and most importantly – no risk of accidental consumption of beef tongue. It was glorious. I’d never been so happy to eat french fries and a McChicken Burger in my life.

If standardization at McDonald’s can give me solace when I’m suffering from culture shock, maybe standardization in our health care environments can bring the same sort of comfort to patients and family members who are feeling overwhelmed.

What do you think? As a patient (or family member) seeking care, do standard / familiar processes and settings — at your doctor’s office, at the hospital — make you feel more comfortable? Or less so? Please share your thoughts. Inquiring minds want to know…

What did you think of this post? Did it affirm your view on the topic? Change your thinking? Let us know, using the Inspire-o-meter below.

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One Response to “Lessons for health care from McDonald’s?”

  1. Bonnie Brossart
    Bonnie Brossart
    November 2, 2012 at 9:00 am #

    Hi Kyla,

    Highly respected surgeon and patient safety and quality improvement champion, Dr. Atul Gawande, recently wrote a great article in the New Yorker on the lessons hospitals can learn from restaurant chains. You’ve given us a great appetizer with your blog; now here’s the full course for those hungry for more!

    http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2012/08/13/120813fa_fact_gawande

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