Here is an unexpected benefit of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA): tastier hospital food!

Apparently, part of the mandate is to heavily weigh patient scores.

Hospitals are working to increase those scores by improving their food service.

Tastier Hospital Food?!

A Kaiser Health News article, republished by USA Today, states that “a growing number of hospitals nationwide are tossing out their fryers and adopting hotel-style ‘room service’ where patients can order food anytime from a large menu. Many are also setting up gardens to grow their own vegetables, inviting local farmers to sell produce in their lobbies and turning food presentations into works of art… Administrators say the focus on food has taken on extra importance since Medicare last year began paying them based partly on their patient-satisfaction scores, a change that is part of the federal health care law…’Food service helps the overall experience,’ said Jim McGrody, director of food and nutrition” at Rex Hospital, part of the University of North Carolina Health System.

“While Medicare’s surveys do not ask about food, Rex administrators believe their culinary efforts help explain their better-than-average overall satisfaction rates. About 84% of Rex patients surveyed said they would recommend the hospital, compared with 71% nationally. ‘I have no doubt that raising the culinary bar improves our customer-satisfaction scores,’ said Chad Lefteris, vice president of operations at Rex.”

“‘Health care reform is pushing a lot of these changes,’ said Richard Schenkel, CEO of Unidine, a Boston-based company that manages food service at 20 hospitals. ‘There is a belief that when you have horrible food, it affects your patient-satisfaction scores,’ he said.”

Hospital Food Contests!

“The trend has meant that hospital food has become a specialty of its own — complete with its own version of Iron Chef. Rex won the top prize in last year’s competition, sponsored by the Association for Healthcare Foodservice. Five hospitals competed this month in New Orleans to make a dish under tight nutritional guidelines that cost less than $7 to produce. The 2013 winner was Elmhurst Memorial Healthcare in Illinois.”

Hospital Menus?!

“Hospitals are also offering more choices to their patients. UNC Health Care in Chapel Hill, N.C., offers a 20-page menu that looks like something you would see at The Cheesecake Factory… all the food orders are tracked by bar codes, much the way hospitals track medications.”

Hospital Food Costs

“The economics are hard to resist, say food service consultants. Hospitals can save thousands of dollars a year just from reduced waste by letting patients order meals room-service style. At the same time, better quality boosts business for on-site cafeterias. And better food can also help a hospital attract more patients by improving its image, said Bill Klein, CEO of DM&A, a California consulting firm.”

“Food costs at the hospital fell by $400,000 in the first year of its ‘Restaurant Delivery’ system because items not served to patients during peak meal periods are sent to hospital cafeterias to avoid waste…’It’s been a game-changer for us,’ said Angelo Mojica, director of food and nutrition services at UNC. He said patient-satisfaction scores…have soared to the 99th percentile.  He parses those ratings by hospital floor and even by type of room — private or semi-private. Like doctors, food service managers, including Mojica, make daily ’rounds’ to talk to patients about their dining needs and preferences.  Patients call in their orders and speak to a food service representative located just off the main kitchen who ensures they stay within dietary restrictions, such as limited salt or calories.”

Mojica reportedly samples everything and “if he doesn’t like something, he tells his cooks to change it or pull it from the menu.”

Patients have clearly noticed the difference. “‘I look forward to meals here, and that’s the bottom line,’ said Greg Vitak, 49, of Raleigh while in a bed at UNC fighting an infection. He was about to eat a pizza covered with pepperoni, onion and mushrooms.”

Will you choose your next hospital stay based on their food rating?

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