Keeping Patients Happy with Paid Parking

In today’s healthcare model, the patient’s opinion of the hospital has become a very important and sensitive issue. Hospitals have shifted from a “Do it my way” to a “Have it your way” mentality. Maybe Burger King had it right all along with their slogan “Have It Your Way”… The reality is hospitals want to help people but they have learned that ultimately they are a business competing with other hospitals. Just like Burger King without the customer, or patient for this matter, their doors would close.

Patient satisfaction is such a focus today that if patients are unsatisfied with their care, the hospital can end up NOT getting reimbursed for some, if not all of the patient’s expenses. This new standard is called “value based care” and is part of a U.S. government push to lower healthcare costs while improving the overall quality of care. Hospitals are now being reimbursed based on the quality of care rather than the volume of procedures. As it relates to charging for parking, this value based care is what causes some discomfort with hospital administration. Hospitals feel that since patients have options of which hospital to go to and healthcare is a life necessity, it may be offensive to require patients to pay an entrance fee. Cities such as Chicago and Manhattan are an exception to this because free parking virtually does not exist as they are in constant need to deter local business traffic.  So why charge to park in a hospital not in a major metropolis?

The reluctance to charge for parking in a hospital is simply a misunderstanding of the rationale behind the motive. If you ask most executives of hospitals in suburban areas what they think of charging for parking at their facility, their immediate reaction is “We can’t upset our patients.” This misconception of ’upsetting the patient’ is nothing more than a fear and an assumption. Of course you’re always going to have that one person who is an avid complainer, but isn’t that the case in every aspect of life? I could ask the same hospital executive “Do you have issues with controlling the flow and capacity of your garage?” and most times the answer would be yes. So what if you charged a nominal fee to park? Would this deter some parkers and in turn control the parking flow of your facility? Yes it will!

I live in Nashville, TN where- believe it or not- free parking still exists. If I am visiting a business near a hospital downtown and the hospital charges to park, I probably won’t park there and in turn help patients by keeping space open for those visiting the hospital. Every hospital has a major specialty they are renowned for. Whether that specialty is cardiology, oncology, neurology, or even a faster emergency room, people will still utilize the hospital even if they have to pay for parking. Did you stop flying because airlines started charging for luggage? No, you adapt, adjust, and forget anything ever changed. Typically, if a hospital is the first to charge in a city and the patient volume doesn’t actually fluctuate, other hospitals will follow suit. Sounds like the airline business doesn’t it? One airline charged for bags and now they all do!

Paid parking can also work in a somewhat reverse format. By this I mean a validation program. Patients get a ticket when entering and put a validated ticket back in the pay-in-lane machine upon exiting. The patient incurs no expense but you can then charge non-patients, vendors, and non-compliant employees. You even make this a fairly high rate to help the deterrence. Now once again you have enhanced patient satisfaction by opening up more parking but streamlined your parking facility.

In my opinion, the change to a value based care model is a shift in the right direction and the decision to charge or not to charge for parking should not be influenced by the desire to create more satisfied patients. The requirement to charge for parking should be based on the need to keep employees and non-patients out of the main parking while providing patients with more convenient parking. At the end of the day, hospitals from Manhattan to Mayberry could charge for parking and alleviate parking abuse while still keeping the patients happy.

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