With Room Service and More, Hospitals Borrow From Hotels

NY Times

At the Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital outside Detroit, patients arrive to uniformed valets and professional greeters. Wi-Fi is free and patient meals are served on demand 24 hours a day. Members of the spa staff give in-room massages and other treatments.

While clinical care is the focus of any medical center, hospitals have many incentives to move toward hotel-inspired features, services and staff training. Medical researchers say such amenities can improve health outcomes by reducing stress and anxiety among patients, while private rooms can cut down on the transfer of disease.

But a big driver of the trend may be hospitals’ interest in marketing — attracting patients with private insurance who have a choice in where they receive care, and encouraging word-of-mouth recommendations.

“It’s a way for hospitals to compete with each other,” said Zig Wu, a senior program manager at Stanford Health Care and one of the authors of an article on hospitality in the medical field for the Journal of Healthcare Management.

Competing on the amenities is all the more important, Mr. Wu said, because there is so little reliable comparative data on hospitals’ medical outcomes.

In the absence of hard data on cancer treatment or surgery success, he said, “patients look to the quality of the hospital’s environment.”

But hospital executives contend that the atmospherics have a medical purpose, too. Robert G. Riney, chief operating officer of the Henry Ford Health System, says the hospitality features help patients feel a little more control over their environment and “focus on getting better.”

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He cited the introduction, in 2009, of 24-hour room service at Henry Ford West Bloomfield instead of set meal schedules.

“If someone is feeling poorly after a tough procedure or taking some medication, they aren’t going to eat just because it’s mealtime,” Mr. Riney said. “They won’t get the nutrition they need.” If patients can order what they want, when they want it, he said, “it’s much better for their recovery.”

The atrium of the Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital outside Detroit. Credit Laura McDermott for The New York Times

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