Imagineering outside the parks: Reinventing children's hospitals

March 7, 2018, 8:25 PM · Themed entertainment designers can do much more than just create theme park attractions. With a blend of skills that range from engineering to stagecraft — with multimedia work and operational management thrown in, too — themed entertainment designers such as Disney's Imagineers can be called upon to help create or improve a wide variety of public spaces.

We've seen this in everything from shopping malls to museums to factory tours, all of which have become more "theme park"-like as designers have branched out into these additional businesses through other firms. But sometimes, the big theme park design teams take on outside projects in house.

Today, the Walt Disney Company announced that it is dedicating $100 million to help improve children's hospitals around the country. Some of the improvements are obvious, with Disney giving hospitals the rights to show Disney movies and TV shows in their facilities, as well as sending them Disney-themed decor. But it's in the less-obvious stuff that the lessons learned by Imagineers and Disney's operations teams in the parks can apply to places such as hospitals.

Disney will use some of its NextGen MagicBand-style tech to allow hospitals to use RFID-based systems to help young patients unlock interactive elements featuring favorite Disney characters, during their stay. And Disney will provide customer experience training for physicians, nurses, and staff members to help them engage with patients and their families in more comforting and less stressful ways.

The initiative will roll out over the next five years at an undisclosed number of children's hospitals around the country, starting at Texas Children's Hospital in Houston, where Disney is having its annual shareholders meeting tomorrow. (Which, BTW, will be picketed by Disneyland employees protesting for a pay increase.)

Having seen my two children through three general-anesthetic abdominal surgeries and two resulting week-long hospital stays, I can vouch that the experience of being in a hospital with a child can be stressful AF. I cannot and hope never to have to imagine what it must be like to face longer and more serious stays. Anything than a hospital can do to personalize, humanize, and simplify the experience is welcome beyond words.

And there's no business better at personalizing and humanizing incredibly large, industrial operations than the theme park business. Who else makes factory robot arms, hydraulics, and 300-foot chain lifts into family fun rides? If theme park designers can make that scary stuff fun, let's give 'em a go at making hospitals a little less scary, too.

Replies (2)

March 8, 2018 at 2:39 AM ·

This is great. Our kids hospital in Melbourne has some great stuff, with support from the nearby Melbourne Zoo, I could imagine Disney doing some awesome things for the kids.

I hope your kids are ok Robert. No matter what life throws at you, caring for a sick child is one of the hardest, disempowering thing for someone to go through. Seeing some enjoyment on their face during it can really help.

March 8, 2018 at 8:13 AM ·

Kids are fine. It was years ago for both. And hey, I now know how to tell the difference between appendicitis and norovirus, even if an urgent care doc doesn't. :^/

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