Health Care Hospitality: Hospitals Use Amenities To Dazzle Patients

by Jan Cottingham  on Monday, Oct. 7, 2013 12:00 am  

A few years ago, St. Vincent touted the quality of its “birthing units” in its Center of Excellence for Women & Children. In addition to the neonatal intensive care unit and a gynecological/pediatric surgery unit, the center housed the mother/baby unit, which featured upgraded linens, a complementary terrycloth robe for the new mother and “chef-prepared meals when [patients] want them, just like room service,” according to an article in Arkansas Medical News.

The response was “very positive,” Aduddell said, “but I think you would find that others are doing that too, so it becomes a kind of a minimum expectation. Everybody has to have those things. So now it’s not so much a distinguishing factor if you have it; it’s more a distinguishing factor if you don’t have it.”

“There was a time that having quality staff and quality doctors and some technology was maybe the order of the day,” said Aduddell, who came to St. Vincent a little more than a year ago from a health system in Oklahoma. “But now everybody has those things and so the distinguishing characteristic if most people have similar technology is going to be service. And so you’ve got to deliver that patient experience every time.”

In their article for the New England Journal of Medicine, Romley, Goldman and Vaiana noted that before the 1990s, “hospitals were thought to attract patients by attracting physicians, which they often did by investing in high-tech medical capabilities. This ‘medical arms race’ led many hospitals to offer a costly array of duplicative services.”

The introduction of managed care in the 1990s led to an increased emphasis on cost containment, with insurers, which decided which hospitals to include in their networks, using that leverage to force hospitals to cut prices.

Now, hospitals are competing based on the amenities they offer because patients care about them.

“That doesn’t mean that patients don’t care about quality of care,” Romley said. And it doesn’t mean that discovering that hospital demand is more responsive to amenities than the quality of care reflects patients’ exact preferences, he said. Determining that a hospital is a pleasant place is probably easier for patients than judging it on its quality of care.

“But it does suggest that in the world we live in, patients do value those creature comforts and are able to differentiate hospitals along those lines,” he said.

Helps to Healing

Highlighting outstanding architecture and 26-inch flat-screen TVs, however, isn’t all about attracting paying patients. High-quality, attractive surroundings also affect healing, health care providers say and some studies show.

When the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences unveiled its new 10-story, 540,000-SF, $200 million hospital in 2009, it noted larger private patient rooms, new operating rooms and a new communications system, but it also touted its large two-story lobby with “pillars of Arkansas limestone, terrazzo floors and a Steinway grand piano.”

All of this, the hospital said in a news release, went toward “creating a pleasant environment that promotes healing and provides ample space for family members to support loved ones during a hospital stay.”



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