4 Things the NHS could learn from Disney

Working as a GP in the esteemed but overstretched british national institution which is the modern NHS can be tough at times. I felt this a little more than usual last week having just returned from my summer holiday in the artificial bubble and pinnacle of one of America’s own national institutions – Disney World –  the “happiest place on earth”.

Since beginning this blog, I’m always on the lookout for innovative ideas. Free association of unrelated concepts is a great source of inspiration. So I kept my iPhone in hand to jot down any thoughts that might help improve life and care within General Practice or the wider NHS.



Walter Elias Disney created the the Walt Disney Company in 1923 in Los Angeles working with his big brother, Roy. Disney is now one of the most recognisable brands in the world and a massive global empire employing 180,000 people and with revenues of $52 billion (2015). For those interested in comparisons, NHS England employs 1,400,000 and has a budget of £116 billion (2015-16).

Disney has a reputation for crafting wonderful experiences and for fantastic customer service. They have a great track record for innovation and were early pioneers in the fields of animation, colour films, theme parks and animatronics. Also, and of relevance to the NHS, they have successfully reinvented themselves through different eras of entertainment and change in their industry to remain relevant and to go from strength to strength.

Of course, Disney has faced criticisms too, including suggestions that its products are bland, its handling of race and stereotypes, tight control of its intellectual properties and image, and treatment of workers manufacturing merchandise.

To fix the NHS will obviously require much more than a little Disney magic. But here are my 4 thoughts on what the NHS might learn from the imagineers at Disney. Some would be a bit controversial or difficult, but remember that they are just imaginings…


Lessons from Disney for the NHS

1. Use technology and transparency to manage the behaviour of people
  • Disney Parks have a great mobile app. It helps customers to be aware of all the entertainment on offer, plan their day and navigate around the parks. It also allows customers to see the waiting times at all rides and attractions and reserve queue jumping tickets and book restaurants.
  • In addition, all visitors carry a chip in either a wrist worn “Magic Band” or a carried card. This allows rides, shops and staff to identify customers, personalize their experience, and is especially useful for redeeming your pre booked queue jumping, or “Fast Pass”, tickets.
  • The widespread use of these technologies and the transparency of waiting times information allows customers to use fast passes (3 a day) to ensure quick entry where it is important to them and then to avoid attractions with longer waits, making greater use of rides with shorter waiting times.
  • The result is that people moderate their behaviour in response to the information. A greater number of people are able to have a great day at the parks without the need for any material increase to ride or attraction capacity.
  1. Develop an app or website to help patients better navigate NHS services.
  2. Allow patients to see what the waiting time in A&E is before they decide to go. Perhaps they will decide not to.
  3. Let patients see their “reservations” or appointments at hospital and primary care clinics in one place.
  4. Allow patients to see how busy their GP Surgery is. If boundary rules were relaxed and records more universally available then patients who choose to could use those GPs who are less busy at that time.
  5. Allow patients a limited number of “fast passes” for quicker access each year to use when it is really important to them, more for those with a higher disease burden.
2. Focus on great customer service
  • This seems obvious. Good customer service is (essentially) free and enormously improves patient experience of their whole care journey. But it is difficult to deliver consistently, particularly in emotionally charged, high stress environments like the NHS.
  • At Disney, all staff from the street sweepers up, are called “Cast Members”. Everyone is essential to the quality of the overall experience. They invest heavily in customer service training with all staff attending orientation training courses at Disney University. Seminars cover Disney’s culture, heritage, values and traditions. During my visit, all staff seemed to be in tune with Disney’s mission and values.
  1. The NHS has a rich history stretching back to its post war founding in 1948 with its compelling mission – “Healthcare for all, free at point of delivery and based on clinical need, not ability to pay”. Is there a role for a high quality NHS staff induction and training program focussed on our heritage and values?
  2. At my surgery we are developing a staff induction session emphasising the mission and culture of our practice and the value of general practice and the NHS. We have included the excellent The Good GP video from the RACGP (2 minutes and worth it).
I snapped this disney cast member (a street cleaner) entertaining a queue by drawing with water. He’s on board with their mission…




Use the value in the brand
  • The NHS is globally recognised, has a fantastic mission and a trusted brand. But is the “NHS Brand” underdeveloped and underused?
  • Disney have used their brand to enter new markets in order to deliver their mission of spreading happiness into new markets (and make more money of course). Beginning with animations, the disney brand can now be found from toys to tablewhere and theme parks to cruises.
  • Disney have undeniably developed a strong and clear brand, and they protect it fiercely. However, they do enter into partnerships with other organisations where this adds value or enhances the customer experience. A partnership with Premier Cruise Line led to the later development of their own Disney Cruise Line. And Chevrolet designers and engineers worked with Disney imagineers on the Test Track ride at the EPCOT park. There are many more examples.
  1. Could the NHS make better use of it’s brand assets?
  2. Perhaps partner with weight loss programs, food manufacturers, gyms or health products or apps?
  3. Partner with the BBC to enter the business of children’s entertainment with responsible health education?
  4. Does the NHS have intellectual properties or investments that could be developed to deliver profit overseas in a similar way to BBC Worldwide?
Make use of time spent waiting
  • Whilst waiting for a ride or restaurant at Disney World, there is generally something to do. A game to play, a display to look at, preparation or briefings for the ride to come, all done whilst queuing.
  1. Could we help patients break up the frustration of waiting in clinics? Why not engage them with meaningful activities? Play a health education game? Watch a health promotion video relevant to their visit? Answer questions to prepare the patient and the doctor/nurse to get the most of their time face to face?
  2. Is there an opportunity for a well designed app or website to fill this gap?


There are many other organisations and industries which the NHS does and could learn from.

What organisations or companies do you admire? Could the NHS learn anything from them?

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