"This is one of those things that gives patients some degree of control over something they know quite a lot about."
While room service seems like such a small thing in the high-octane, big science world of acute healthcare services, a hospital that provides it to patients—all other variables being equal—is likely to score higher in patient satisfaction, according leadership at 24-hospital Banner Health, which will install the concept throughout its hospitals in the next few years.
Look at room service from a patient's point of view, says Kathy Bollinger, president of Banner's Arizona West region.
"This is one of those things that gives patients some degree of control over something they know quite a lot about," she says. By contrast, with most patients' experience in the hospital, "there's not a lot they can be in control of. It's truly a differentiator."
Banner has committed to this initiative, spending millions at two Phoenix-area hospitals to add room service. At 513-licensed-bed Banner Thunderbird, room service was part of a $10 million expansion and upgrade of the dining facilities, and room service was incorporated into the design of the new 214-bed Banner Estrella and 168-bed Banner Gateway hospitals. A fourth hospital, 404- licensed-bed Banner Del E. Webb, also has the service, and all 12 of the system's 12 Arizona hospitals are scheduled to have room service by 2011.
While most will have hotel-like room service, with patients following their orders into a call center staffed by food service employees, a few of their hospitals will have food service employees taking orders at the bedside.
So what's the big deal about cooked-to-order meals delivered to the patient's bedside?
"I have been a patient at these hospitals a couple of times," Bollinger volunteers. "If I felt like eating soup, I called. It just felt very service-oriented," she says. "So I'm a really big believer in it."
The beauty of room service, says Christine McSweeney, associate administrator at Banner Del E. Webb Medical Center, is that it doesn't have to cost the hospital a lot of money to create. It does require new training for employees, for example, and some new equipment, such as quick-cook ovens.