When people dine at restaurants, they typically have high expectations for the quality, taste and choices in the foods they’ll eat. But put them in a hospital and they rarely expect a great meal. It’s a dichotomy the hospital food service industry sees every day and is aiming to eliminate.
Here’s the vision within our reach: Quality and choice – and a truly delicious, tailored food experience – is exactly what we can and should offer to every person who steps foot into a hospital. Patients, visitors and healthcare workers deserve nothing less than what they’d expect when visiting a good dining establishment.
Progress made and opportunities for improvement
For too long, hospital food has faced the stereotype of being bland, uninspired and a “necessary evil” of the hospital experience. Patients today have access to more information about nutrition and health than ever before, and they are increasingly demanding higher quality, healthier food options.
We have come a long way over the past few years. Kiosk ordering, cashless cafés, Door Dash-style convenience, and virtual kitchens were mere dreams five or 10 years ago. Now, you can find many of these options at hospitals across the country.
But with progress comes so much more opportunity. Customers are savvier than ever, and healthcare must evolve accordingly. Rather than the sometimes slow, incremental change for which the industry is traditionally known, we need comprehensive transformational change in how we approach food and nutrition in the healthcare setting to take the patient dining experience to the next level.
Emerging trends in hospital cuisine
So, what do these transformational changes look like?
We are going to increasingly see the rise of zero waste and carbon-neutral kitchens. This means hospitals will invest in new equipment and technologies for their kitchens to help reduce their carbon footprint and minimize waste – both for food and energy consumption – all while allowing chefs to prepare meals more quickly and efficiently.
Can you imagine a day when the dining experience can be personalized to such a degree that it can take into account a patient’s unique DNA (offering specific diet compositions that serve as preventive or accounting for general susceptibility to preferring certain foods) and medical history? This would ensure patients receive the right nutrition for their individual needs, which can lead to better health outcomes.
Another important emerging trend is the ability to track exactly what patients are consuming – because food that is not eaten offers no nutrition at all. By using technology to monitor food consumption, hospitals can ensure that patients are actually eating what is put on their plates, creating opportunities to provide more personalized nutrition advice and adjust menus as needed.
Finally, I envision hospitals moving to an experience similar to that of the Disney MagicBand, which eliminates the need to carry payment cards, room keys and paper. In the hospital setting, this wearable technology could enable patients, visitors and employees to order meals, track their food consumption, and provide feedback on the dining experience. This functionality will make it easier for hospitals to provide personalized nutrition and improve the overall patient experience.
Improving patient experience through food
Big ideas are sometimes necessary for transformation, but on a day-to-day level, small changes can have a big impact on the patient experience. It all starts with high-quality ingredients, offering a variety of menu options, and providing a pleasant and welcoming dining environment. With these small steps, hospitals can transform the dining experience into something patients enjoy.
To this aim, flexibility is critical. Patients should be met with a range of menu options that cater to different dietary requirements, including vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free and kosher meals. Additionally, through a digital ordering platform, hospitals can offer patients more control over their dining experience by allowing them to place orders on-demand and providing them with options for customization.
The impact of specialty and customized menus in elevating the patient experience can be striking. For example, when the women’s unit of a large health system rolled out a special menu for Mother’s Day, there was a significant increase in inpatient satisfaction scores that weekend, with “percent excellent” increasing almost 20% that month as compared to previous months.
A new approach to hospital dining
Ultimately, hospital dining should be designed to provide patients with an experience that is healthy, nourishing and enjoyable – all while helping to reduce readmissions. Food plays a critical and central role in the healing process, providing strength for patients to recuperate and sustenance to those providing life-saving care.
Patients should be met with the same – or better – level of hospitality within the four walls of the hospital that they experience in any other day-to-day hospitality experience. Hospitals can flip the script, creating a storyline focused on great food that happens to be served in a hospital.
Food can be medicine, or it can just be a darn good meal. Patients should be able to count on both.
Compass One Healthcare’s branded sectors, Morrison Healthcare (food and nutrition services) and Crothall Healthcare (support services) provide exceptional expertise in 45 states and 2,200 hospital and health systems. With more than 52,000 engaged team members, Compass One focuses on delivering quality, value, and exceptional experiences through its specialized services.
About the author
As the senior vice president of culinary strategy and innovation for Morrison Healthcare, Kevin Dorr is responsible for defining and executing Morrison Healthcare’s brand strategy for retail operations in its cafés, second points of service, and gift shops in more than 630 hospitals and healthcare systems across the country.