Emotionless Parking: The Impact of Automated Healthcare Parking

It is no question that our world is becoming more and more automated every day. We have become so accustomed to getting what we want, when we want it, with little aid from an actual human being; it’s amazing we actually have any form of social skills left! The largest contributor to this is probably the invention of the smart phone which is as connected to us as a colostomy bag. Now don’t get me wrong, I love technology as much as the next person (as I type this on my iPhone at 30,000 feet!), but does this mean we eliminate human interaction in the hopes it will reduce costs and speed up regular processes? In particular, do we remove the personal touch as it relates to hospital parking operations? If so, we might be missing the vision behind “value based care”.

To combat rising healthcare costs while enhancing the patient experience, hospitals across the world are evaluating their parking operations to examine if they really need employees at garage entrances. Why put a warm body when a machine that doesn’t require sick days, vacation, and health benefits can do everything for you? I agree that the logic to reduce costs and the notion that ‘this is the 21st century and 80% of society is tech savvy’ makes sense However, what will be the impact on the patient experience if we eliminate human interaction in parking? Well, I see two outcomes with one outweighing the other:

  1. No Human Contact-Some patients will be relieved that they don’t have to interact with an actual person. Their emotions might be running high due to medical reasons and some people may not have the patience to have a conversation with someone.
  2. Negative First Impression: You end up hurting the patient experience from the very first touch point you have to make an impression. With the exception of visiting a new mother who just had a baby, let’s be honest, most people are not in the highest spirits when coming to the hospital. So if I am already in a distressed state entering the hospital, would it “enhance” my experience to have to figure out how to operate the pay-in-lane machine? Probably not. Add this to trying to use similar parking equipment that operate differently, doesn’t make it easier.

If the healthcare system has become all about “smiles and service”, why would we cut out the first opportunity to brighten the patient experience? I believe this is the primary reason more and more patients are utilizing hospital valet. It takes the hassle out of parking because somebody, not something, helps them into the hospital. Now I am not saying to eliminate the machines and have cashiers only. Some of the most successful parking operations I have experienced are the ones where the patient utilizes the pay-in-lane equipment and there is someone there aiding and assisting them into the garage. A cashier is great, but as we already know it can slow the lane down as well as present some safety concerns as it pertains to theft.  However with pay-in-lane equipment and a physical person present, you are now getting efficiency mixed with a warm greeting.

At the end of the day an automated world is inevitable and we have to embrace the change. There may come a day when our world’s new technologies outweigh the need for an actual human being. However to enhance patient satisfaction, we can never replace meaningful care with a microchip. No matter how you slice it, the human race is not made up of robots (thank goodness!) and we will always appreciate the interaction. The patient coming to the hospital will mostly be in distressed state. While we cannot stop this, we can empathize and supplement the technology with something we as humans will always desire, an emotional connection. Hospitals should always be looking for ways to save money, but not at the expense of the patient experience.

“A warm smile is the universal language of kindness.” –William Arthur Ward

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