Redesigning Emergency Rooms into Experience Rooms

Cathie Cayaba-Ma, Yuting Chu, Marlitt Jurgens, Pratap John Mathews and Ari Sefton
MBA Perspectives
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Key Takeaways

What? Customer experience designers can redesign Emergency Rooms, transform the negative perception of patients, and revolutionize the customers’ experience. 

So what? Customer experience designers can adopt desired physical and emotional elements from other commercial spaces that consumers already love. Simple changes can make a huge difference.

Now what? Rather than leaving the visceral, emotional experience patients have in an ER room to chance, marketers can, by intentionally evoking patients’ positive memories, manufacture consistently affirming, uplifting, and therapeutic emotional attachments, supplanting undesirable ones in the process

MBA Perspectives: 'Big Design' is an exclusive AMA series examining customer experience design.

How can marketers transform one of the most difficult and negative experiences – hospitals’ emergency rooms (ER) – into one that is emotionally rewarding and satisfying? How can they design and engineer human emotions so that patients’ perceptions can be reconfigured to ensure they have positive and even memorable experiences? Can Emergency Rooms be re-imagined into Experience Rooms?

Customer Experience Design provides the framework and tools that marketers can use to plan, design, and deliver experiences to strategically evoke emotions of customers and gain a competitive advantage. More specifically, by engineering emotions, marketers can strategically transform consumers’ feelings from acrimony to affinity, despair to hope, grief to joy, and anger to affection. 

According to Kevin Roberts’ (2005) book, Lovemarks, brands that are Lovemarks inspire high-respect and high-love as they deliver beyond consumers’ expectations of great performance. Ideally they should reach consumers’ hearts as well as their minds, creating an intimate connection that customers just cannot live without. Overall, Lovemarks “inspire loyalty beyond reason.” 

The current ER can be placed in the high-respect and low-love quadrant of Roberts’ (2005) Lovemark matrix. The wealth of experience and dedication from the medical staff – especially in North America – inspires respect and a degree of confidence from patients. On the other hand, ERs are typically characterized by pain, suffering, sorrow, and fear. The challenge for customer experience designers is, therefore, to place hospital ERs in the ideal quadrant of high-respect and high-love, and according to Roberts (2005), the easiest way to do this is to increase the ER’s intimacy. 

To transform an Emergency Room into an Experience Room, marketers can draw inspiration from other commercial spaces that consumers actually look forward to visiting: spas, hotels, yoga studios, resorts, and coffee shops, for example. Engineering space, a process known as designscape, is utilized to provide deep emotional meaning to customers, making these establishments enjoyable. These can be applied to the Emergency Room as well:

1. Enhance the Technology: To make check-in easy for instance, patients who can, should be able to access computerized registration kiosks where they can input or update their information. These kiosks take away the bottleneck at registration desks when a typical ER gets busy.

2. Reengineer Ambiance: Ambient conditions such as temperature, air quality, noise, and music could be improved by adding new color to the walls (soft blues will calm the mind and aid in concentration), installing automatic deodorizers that spray mild calming scents like lavender or vanilla, and playing the sound of running water in the audio system or something similarly calming. 

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3. Emote: Engineering meaning can be achieved through signs, symbols and artifacts. Mary Jo Bitner (1992) writes “signs, symbols, and artifacts are an integral part of the servicescape dimension”. The multitude of medical devices, monitors, and wires can instill feelings of fear, sorrow, and anguish for some, while for others they inspire feelings of salvation, hope, and gratitude for the miracles of modern medical science. Aesthetic impressions, when leveraged, can ensure with greater certainty that when patients subjectively imbue emotional meanings onto an Emergency Room, those emotional meanings falls as close to marketers intended meaning as possible.

4. Provide Extra Services: The ER can be equipped with strong Wi-Fi connectivity, self-serve free trade coffee, and comfortable loungers, for example. A traumatic experience, anxiety, or pain could certainly be alleviated by the immediate environment where a patient and his/her family spend time getting help.

People do not visit the ER because they are looking for fun; they go to the Emergency Room for treatment of trauma or accident. This experience could be better sustained and seen a tad more positively if the environment where patients and their families are received were inviting, calming, or conducive to composure.


Bitner, Mary Jo (1992), “Servicescapes: The Impact of Physical Surroundings on Customers and Employees,” Journal of Marketing, 56 (April), 57-71.

Roberts, Kevin (2005), The Future Beyond Brands: Lovemarks, New York, NY: Powerhouse Books.

Rosenbaum, Mark S. and Carolyn Massiah (2011), “An Expanded Servicescape Perspective,” Journal of Service Management, 22 (4), 471-490.

The AMA is pleased to partner with Professor Markus Giesler and his MBA students from the Schulich School of Business at York University.

Author Bio:

Cathie Cayaba-Ma, Yuting Chu, Marlitt Jurgens, Pratap John Mathews and Ari Sefton
Cathie Cayaba-Ma, Yuting Chu, Marlitt Jurgens, Pratap John Mathews and Ari Sefton are students in Markus Giesler’s Customer Experience Design MBA elective course at the Schulich School of Business, York University.
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