On the morning of Saturday, May 6, I woke around 7am and lay in bed, composing a mental checklist of everything I needed to do to prepare for my baby shower later that day. I’d recently hit my third trimester and after a difficult early pregnancy, I was excited to be celebrating the home stretch with my closest girlfriends.
With a growing to-do list and time ticking, I got up to have a shower and get into the day. Without going into too much detail about what happened next, it became apparent that my waters had broken. At 29 weeks, this was far from ideal.
I went straight to my local hospital on the Sunshine Coast and was promptly rushed to the Royal Brisbane Hospital, where a specialist obstetric team got to work on delaying my labour and treating me with steroids to fast-track the development of the baby’s lungs, which is the major concern with a baby born under 30 weeks gestation. My husband and I were told that the most probable outcome would be an emergency caesarian within 48 hours, but if they were able to delay labour for at least 72 hours, we were looking at a much more positive outcome.
The afternoon I’d envisaged – wearing a beautiful floral dress, enjoying high tea with 18 of my dearest friends and opening baby presents – now involved a purple hospital gown, a blur of injections and a team of medical specialists focused on keeping my baby in utero as long as possible.
When the first critical 48 hours had passed with no signs of contractions, the worry and panic subsided a little and it became a waiting game. Given I could go into labour at any moment, I was not able to be further than five minutes from the hospital, which meant cancelling 7 speaking engagements planned for the following fortnight. Ironically, the first one was for Queensland Health – a customised keynote I’d prepared entitled ‘The Future of the Patient Experience’.
While I wasn’t able to deliver my presentation, I was now getting a very detailed — albeit unexpected — first-hand insight into the patient experience in Queensland Health’s largest and oldest hospital.
A fortnight later, my patient experience went to the extreme when baby Oliver was delivered by emergency c-section, weighing just 1500 grams. Being 9 weeks early, he was immediately admitted to the neo-natal intensive care unit (NICU), where he was treated for two weeks before being moved to the special care nursery.
After 43 days he was finally strong enough to go home and while he’s still tiny, he’s a perfect baby in every way.
Needless to say, it’s been a whirlwind few months and an experience I’ll never forget. From the day I was admitted to the Royal Brisbane to the day Oliver was discharged, we were cared for by a total of 334 doctors, nurses, midwives, and specialists. 334 medical professionals directly contributed to our eight-week patient experience. That’s a lot of touch points and while the really significant milestones — The day I gave birth, the day he was strong enough to be held for the first time, the morning he graduated from NICU to special care — are all top of mind, some of the most memorable moments in the entire experience were the small, seemingly insignificant interactions that became incredibly meaningful on reflection; a conversation on day 27 with a nurse about my late parents, the first time I saw my obstetrician after the birth, the moment Oliver came off all breathing support, the day he got the all-clear from the pediatric physiotherapist, the hug I got from a support staff member on a bad day … these were all parts of the patient experience and all moments I’ll never forget. It’s a powerful reminder that even in a field like medicine, where technology is changing patient outcomes and revolutionizing what’s possible, it’s still a people business.
If you took the time to map out how many touch points make up the experience your customers have with your brand or business, you might be surprised. Your list may not reach 334, but the list will probably be longer than you expect.
While we’re all looking to leverage technology in our businesses to automate and innovate, I believe that the Holy Grail for any business or sector in the next 3-5 years is the right combination of high tech and high touch.
Because while I’m incredibly grateful for the machines, medical treatments and equipment that saved Ollie’s life, it’s the 334 incredible humans who we met in those eight life-changing weeks that I’ll think about whenever I reflect on Oliver’s dramatic start in the world.
Map out your customer experience and let me know in the comments below how many touch points you identify. It may even get you thinking about how to improve, enhance and humanise some of those touch points to make them more memorable — not through anything high tech, but through initiatives that are high touch.