surprised and happy familyRight about now you might be wondering exactly how the “Spanish Inquisition” catchphrase could possibly harbor a lesson for doctor marketing. The answer is surprisingly simple and it’s a useful way to define, create and deliver an exceptional patient experience.

To be clear, we’re not talking about a patient’s medical care or the provider’s skills, credentials and experience. For most people, a positive patient experience is&mdashin addition to the clinical care they received—the sum of how they feel they were treated.

As quick background about the humorous catchphrase; it originated in parody sketches in Monty Python’s Flying Circus in 1970. Over the following 40 years, it has popped up often in popular culture and media, including comic books, television programs and video games.

If you’ve seen any of these, the comedy premise of–“Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition” –is always a matter of surprise. In fact, the catchphrase is the launch of an unexpected, unrelated and entertaining sketch. The chief weapon of the Spanish Inquisition-at least according to these delightful parodies-is surprise.

Surprise and delight.

The doctor-marketing lesson here is that a positive patient experience contains an element of surprise and delight. The test for the exceptional elements of a patient-centric office is those things that unexpectedly exceed expectations. “Business as usual” is unremarkable and nobody thinks twice about the “ordinary.” But a truly memorable experience includes something pleasantly shocking, and leaves a positive impression with the patient.

Here are some real-world examples:

  • From the retail world (an actual tweet): “Did not expect instant feedback from HomeDepot_Care, but they did! Lighting speed customer service, yo! <— always so cool!”
  • There’s no surprise in finding magazines or TV, but: “I visited a GP’s office where both Wi-Fi AND (loaner) tablet computers were available for patients in the reception area…and this was a couple years before iPad introduced. To this day, I don’t recall the reason for the visit, but I remember the unexpected discovery of the tablet device, and I often make referrals to that practice.”
  • Hopefully a pleasant smile and friendly greeting is a minimum, but many patients are surprised when they are addressed by name on the first visit. “The practice didn’t use a sign-in sheet. They know who is coming in. Although we never met, I was greeted by name and felt welcome like they appreciate having me as part of the practice.”
  • Similarly… “The nurse came out to the welcome area and quietly and politely introduced herself. At other practices, they just open the door and call a name, like some cattle call. What a refreshing difference.”
  • “I couldn’t get over it. Everyone I met in that office stopped what he or she was doing, they stood up and introduced themselves. I felt like a special guest.”
  • “Then there was this time when I had just completed a screening mammogram. They’re uncomfortable, you know. They presented me with a fresh flower. Not exactly medical science, but it sure made me smile and feel better.”
  • We salute a prosthodontist we know in the Northeast. “During the wet and wintry months, his office provides umbrellas for patients who need them. (They’re usually returned on a later visit.) And on snowy days, the office would call patients to ask if they needed a ride for their appointment. The office had an arrangement with the local taxi company and would pay the cab fare so the patient would have safe transportation and didn’t have to drive in the snow.”

The cost for ideas like these—the touches that surprise and delight&mdashis little or nothing. But the payback is enormous in providing an exceptional, and memorable, patient experience. Patients are bonded to the practice, wouldn’t think of going elsewhere, and they frequently make referrals to the practice.

Consider this same lesson from Walt Disney when his accountants wanted to do away with the Christmas Parade at Disneyland. “The people are already at the park,” the bean counters argued, “and no one will complain if we dispense with the parade. After all, nobody’s expecting it.”

Walt Disney replied: “That’s just the point. We should do the parade because no one’s expecting it. As long as we keep surprising them, they’ll keep coming back. But if they ever stop coming, it’ll cost us ten times that much to get them to come back.”

Use Disney’s wisdom, or the “Nobody Expects the Spanish Inquisition” catchphrase as a reminder to make the patient experience a surprise and a delight.

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Stewart Gandolf

Stewart Gandolf

Chief Executive Officer and Co-Founder at Healthcare Success Strategies
Stewart Gandolf, MBA, is CEO of Healthcare Success, a medical marketing and health care advertising agency. He is also a frequent writer and speaker. Most importantly, he is happily married and a "rock-n-roll daddy" to two wonderful girls.
Stewart Gandolf
Stewart Gandolf


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