It pays to satisfy customers, even those confined to
BY GINNY MARCIN
ate in 2012, a new prescription took effect in U.S. hospitals—one that could eventually
affect every department, including foodservice. At the heart of the change is a survey where patients
rate their recent hospital experience.
The survey itself (known as HCAHPS—Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers
and Systems) isn’t new. But now, unless patients at a hospital rate themselves as highly satisfied,
some of the hospital’s Medicare funding may be cut. And some results are made public, meaning
that future customers can compare survey results for different hospitals.
The survey doesn’t ask about foodservice directly. But some experts think that there might be
a foodservice question on the next survey. Beyond that, anything that affects a hospital’s finances
and reputation can affect every department.
Happily, within the past few years, daring new programs have been cropping up to give hospital
customers not just good food, but the food they want, served when they want it.
And some experts think excellent hospital foodservice may influence what patients think about
their hospital experiences that don’t involve food.
“Foodservice is one of the few areas where our customers feel they have some expertise and,
therefore, some control,” says David Metrando, director of food/nutrition services at Saint Francis
Hospital, Poughkeepsie, N. Y. He says that a patient who has an excellent foodservice experience at
the hospital may be more likely to want to recommend the hospital overall—and to rate the hospital
accordingly on the Medicare-related survey.
eat when you want to
Christopher Linaman, F&B manager/executive chef at Overlake Hospital Medical Center, Bellevue,
Wash., recalls that when he first came to the hospital some seven years ago, each patient would
order meals 24 hours ahead. Then, three times a day, he or she would receive a meal tray whether
or not all the components were wanted.
Today, patients at the hospital can call an operator between 6: 30 a.m. and 7: 30 p.m. and order from
a menu, item by item. The approach, similar to that of a hotel, is commonly known as “room service.”
“Giving people the opportunity to choose has been a huge win,” says Linaman. In third-party
surveys conducted for the hospital by an outside organization (not the Medicare-related survey),
foodservice patient satisfaction scores jumped 40 points with the room-service approach, he says.
Some patients order a complete menu of soup, salad, entree, dessert and a cookie. But others
may just call down and order gelatin, “because it’s what they want at the moment,” says Linaman.
About one in four patients has dietary restrictions based on a health or medical condition, meaning
there must be food choices for a dozen different types of special needs. Everything is cooked to
order, except potatoes.
Linaman loves to see the surprise created by menu items such as small tapas plates, mini Thai
chicken satay with mango chutney, and a Thai rice-noodle salad served in a Chinese-food takeout
box. A small fruit and cheese plate teams local artisan cheese, organic fruits and berries, and