Ensuring that patient-friendly services match clinical goals is a big challenge
When the Sacred Heart Medical Center at RiverBend opens in Springfield, Ore., in August 2008, patients and their families will enter a hospital surrounded by wetlands and Douglas firs. Inside, they'll encounter multiple fireplaces, coffee shops and visitors' lounges.
"As you come to the hospital, you'll be greeted warmly as you enter, much as you would by a concierge at a hotel," says Adam Kerner, an executive architect with Anshen + Allen, who partnered on RiverBend with an outside architect whose previous experience had been in designing resorts.
Increasingly, hospitals are looking to the hotel industry to improve patient satisfaction, with amenities ranging from on-demand entertainment to room service menus with 50 options. Some are even turning to executives with more experience in hospitality than hospitals.
Gerard van Grinsven, president of the Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital now under construction in suburban Detroit, says area hospital executives were surprised when he was hired away from hotelier Ritz-Carlton in 2006. Up to then, his two-decade career had been exclusively in hotels and resorts.
But skepticism soon gave way to curiosity and competitiveness, van Grinsven says. In fact, Beaumont Hospitals in nearby Royal Oak, Mich., hired a Ritz-Carlton executive as their director of hospitality a short while later.
Van Grinsven is introducing a bit of the Ritz-Carlton flair to the new hospital, adding touches like mini-hotel rooms for visitors as well as healthy cooking classes for the surrounding community. The facility, which opens in July 2008, will include larger-than-normal emergency patient rooms—roughly 150 square feet—to create more space for visitors, a result of design sessions that included input from patients, nurses and doctors.
While van Grinsven stresses that clinical quality is his first priority, he believes customer care can play an important role.
"Our patients have a lot of faith that their physicians are doing the right thing from a clinical perspective, and feel they are not capable in judging clinical care. They think, 'What I can evaluate is, did I get a warm welcome at the door? Was there good quality food? Was the room immaculately clean?' "
But other industry experts are skeptical as to whether the perks will translate into patient loyalty. Janna Binder, director of marketing and public relations for Professional Research Consultants in Omaha, Neb., says that when patients pick a facility, room service takes a backseat to recommendations from physicians, family members and friends and to specific treatments offered. "Patients look at hospitals by service line," she says.
Hotel-like amenities are the province of high-performing health systems looking to put the "icing on the cake," Binder says.
Some executives see opportunities to merge hotel amenities with health care goals. Jill Hoggard-Green, chief operating officer of PeaceHealth Oregon Region and administrator of Sacred Heart Medical Center, says the designers of the new RiverBend facility consulted with a Texas A&M University researcher who believes a connection with nature can improve clinical outcomes. As a result, every patient room has a view of the nearby McKenzie River and surrounding green space.
The GetWellNetwork contracts with hospitals to provide interactive video at the patient bedside, including the latest Hollywood movies—one amenity that today’s patients almost take for granted. However, persuading them to watch clinical and educational programs—say, a video on how to quit smoking—has been a challenge, says Michael O'Neil, company founder and CEO. After a 2004 internal study revealed that only 10 percent to 12 percent of patients using the network were accessing educational offerings, GetWellNetwork added onscreen messages to promote those programs. The more active system helped increase the percent of patients watching educational content to between 55 percent and 72 percent, O'Neil says.
This article first appeared in the November 2007 issue of H&HN magazine.