Awhile back, when certain "experts" were advising hospitals that the only way to attract more patients was to turn themselves into sort of high-end hotels, with spacious rooms, lavish furnishings, the latest sound and video equipment, and spa-like amenities ranging from saunas to in-room massages, we here at Hospitals & Health Networks were especially interested in one particular area being targeted for an upgrade: food service. We'd heard from plenty of patients over the years about their encounters with spongy vegetables, mystery meats and green Jell-o. Suddenly, hospitals were hiring chefs who had culinary degrees and knew the difference between couscous and quinoa. The press releases that flooded our newsroom about the new menu items not only tantalized our taste buds, they also led us to half- seriously consider publishing a recipe section in the magazine and hosting a hospital version of Top Chef at our annual Leadership Summit.

Neither of those things happened, thank goodness, and, to tell the truth, I didn't think much about food service again until recently when a couple of new, related issues were brought to my attention.

I've blogged about two of them in our e-newsletter, H&HN Daily. The first concerned a patient who was admitted to a hospital, made it clear upon check-in that she was a vegan, but during the course of her stay was presented with trays of red meat, cheese pizza, cereal drowning in milk, and buttery toast. Her point was that veganism is not all that exotic anymore and that, in this day and age, when patient experience is a measurable determinant for reimbursement, shouldn't hospitals heed patients' food preferences?

Another blog focused on the need to reduce the use of meats from livestock that are given high and often unnecessary doses of antiobiotics. With the increase in antibiotic-resistance, a dietitian urged hospitals to pay more attention to where they buy the meat they serve to patients, visitors and staff.

In this month's issue of H&HN, one of our features looks at hospital food from an even more pressing angle. The article, "Hospitals Put Nutrition on the Front Burner," written by Rebecca Vesely, points out that a third of patients admitted to U.S. hospitals are malnourished and that patients with chronic diseases are at greater risk for malnutrition.

The Hospital Healthy Food Initiative and the Alliance to Advance Patient Nutrition are working to disseminate best practices and to promote screening and intervention. That's good for patients and lowers costs by reducing lengths of stay and readmissions.

Hospitals are even going outside their walls, including nutrition counseling in their discharge plans, following up in home visits and working with others in the community to teach healthy eating habits. Read Rebecca's article on Page 30.

One other thing regarding this issue: Our cover story on the growing trend of delivering care in outpatient rather than inpatient settings is titled "The Great Migration." That term more commonly describes the period in the early 20th century in which vast numbers of African-Americans moved from the South to the North in search of jobs. If you want to take a break from thinking about health care sometime, read Isabel Wilkerson's The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration. It's fascinating.

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