How many times have you pulled off the interstate in some unfamiliar off-ramp or town looking for a bite to eat? Similarly, when you go on a long vacation that requires several days of driving, have you ever needed to find a hotel at the end of the day? There are certain things I look for in these situations when I am hungry or need a place to sleep. I don’t know about you but I usually feel more comfortable if I am able to pull into a place that I can trust and have some idea of a minimum standard. Sometimes it might not be exactly what I want at the time but the reliability factor makes me go back there.

I often thought it might be nice if we could get that same kind of thing with healthcare. Why is it that healthcare has escaped this Madison Avenue approach to sales and reliability? I think the short answer is two-fold. First, the complexity of the service makes it very difficult to repeat on a consistent basis from one place to another. This is especially true when you are talking about different States. Secondly, regulation in healthcare is rampant. It seems that everyone in federal, state and local governments wants to look over a provider’s shoulder. This tends to slow everything down and make consistency a big problem. One government wants things one way and another wants it a different way. This makes a consistent offering almost impossible. If we truly can’t trust a logo in healthcare, what do we have to look to when we are making choices?

I would tell you that there is no better substitute than doing some actual research yourself. These days it usually starts by visiting the website of the provider. How does it feel when you land on their homepage? I have spent some time looking at healthcare websites lately and they are pretty indicative of what you will find as you actually visit. Once you get to the facility it doesn’t take some kind of medical degree to figure out what is happening. Trust your instincts. The five senses usually tell it all. What are you seeing, smelling, feeling and just sensing. Do staff members look interested in the fact that you are there? Are residents engaged in their surroundings?

I recently had the opportunity to meet with a gentleman who just walked in unannounced looking for a place for his mother. His antennae were up from the moment he walked in the door. As he and I walked through the building he suddenly stopped and leaned down to a resident in a wheelchair and asked “how do you like it here?” The second question was “are they nice to you?” I thought to myself that this man was very smart in his method of shopping for a facility and I appreciated his technique.

Maybe someday Wal-Mart, Target and Talbots will go into the healthcare profession but until then we will need to take some time and look carefully before making that very important decision of who will help us take care of our family member.