March 25, 2015

Goodbye Orange Jello: Hospitals Emulate 5-Star Hotels to Attract Patients

Mary MahoneyBY Mary Mahoney

J. Robinson Group Blog

For those of us who grew up in the 60s, 70s and 80s, the idea of being hospitalized brought forth images of unpleasant, shared rooms, scratchy open-back gowns, and the ubiquitous jello. Window shopping for a hospital – perusing the menu, perks like plushy bathrobes or taking a tour of the facility beforehand – was inconceivable. Unless you needed a very specialized procedure, you basically went where your doctor sent you.

“Before the 1990s, hospitals were thought to attract patients by attracting physicians, which they often did by investing in high-tech medical capabilities,” said John Romley, in a study he co-authored for the The New England Journal of Medicine. “In the 1990s, managed care ushered in a new style of competition by injecting cost-consciousness into the equation.”

Today, he observes, yet another style of competition appears to be emerging, in which hospitals compete for patients directly, on the basis of amenities. This trend has picked up steam in the last decade or so. There is some controversy as to how upgrades and amenities correlate to better health and improved patient outcomes, length of hospital stays and other considerations.

One thing most experts agree on is that the unconventional, almost resort-like model is gaining favor, and the push is led by patients. In a striking observation, Romley’s study notes that “Patients themselves said that the nonclinical experience is twice as important as the clinical reputation in making hospital choices.”

As a result, in this era of patient-centered care, hospitals are changing dramatically. Some, like Botsford Hospital in Farmington Hills, Michigan, feature a VIP program (Very Important Patient.) An article in Kaiser Health describes perks such as free parking, educational programs and gift shop discounts. The Henry Ford Hospital in West Bloomfield, Michigan, shows off a restaurant serving produce grown in the facility’s own greenhouse.

Cedars-Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles offers deluxe private rooms. Similarly, Mount Sinai Hospital in New York features upscale maternity suites with spa-inspired private baths (albeit at a steep price.)

Some hospitals offer downright unusual services. According to an article by Laralyn Sasaki, Florence General Hospital in Florence, South Carolina, operates a day‑care service for the elderly. And Holy Cross Hospital in Silver Spring, Maryland, once offered a bicycle‑repair class. Other facilities offer classes in everything from preventive medicine to clowning. One California hospital even has a catering service for champagne receptions.

But when does it really make the most sense to seek out (and pay for) such extras? Orlando Health’s Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women & Babies thought childbirth might just be the right occasion for extra pampering and attention. Certainly bringing a baby into the world is a much more memorable, exciting and emotionally complex experience than, say, getting an appendectomy. The concept has been a great fit.

Winnie Palmer Hospital was a pioneer in 2004 when it introduced the concept of having the entire hospital – each and every room – rival a 5-star hotel. In 2005 Orlando Health created a hospital concierge program for Winnie Palmer Hospital to provide a variety of nonclinical services to make a patients stay as comfortable as possible, which puts the hospital at the front of a very strong trend in patient care.

Orlando Health hired Jenna Stallard from the hospitality industry to serve as its customer relations manager. “The idea was fresh and new,” she said. “Not very many hospitals were doing this. The hospitals with VIP suites had them segmented, in a separate wing with rooms at $1,000 or more per night.”

Winnie Palmer Hospital wanted an upgraded experience to be available to all patients, she said. “Every room is private, with big windows, nice views, a relaxation TV channel, and room service on demand.” Patients can select amenities like upgraded linens, robes and celebratory gourmet meals. A concierge helps make selections from the complementary movie library, reserve a mani pedi or book an in-room beautician.

There also are educational and fitness classes for new mothers. Prospective patients are welcome to take a guided tour before committing to a stay at Winnie Palmer Hospital. “We have 11 tours per week, with 12 guests each, and we give them an overview of the facilities and amenities,” Stallard said, noting that the hospital’s patient satisfaction ratings have put it in the top 10 percent nationally for seven out of the last nine years.

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