Walk into many of the new hospitals in the United States, and you might mistake the lobby for that of a five-star hotel. Between the beautiful atria, private inpatient rooms, and modern décor and furnishings, hospitals have eliminated a good part of the sterile atmosphere that often intimidates visitors and patients.
But with this new trend toward hotel-like surroundings, amenities, and even services come numerous questions, concerns, and challenges. Do these features increase costs for the hospital and its patients? Do these amenities affect patient outcomes? Are we setting unrealistic standards moving forward? As the country enters an unprecedented period of healthcare reform, it's worth examining what's happening with this hotel model in the United States and how patient room design is evolving in other parts of the world.
Focus on the family
The trend toward more accommodating inpatient rooms and service amenities seems to stem, in part, from the values found in family-centered care. Since the early 1990s, such organizations as the Institute for Family-Centered Care and The Center for Health Design began to formally focus on gathering research supporting evidence-based design, including the role of the family in a patient's recovery. As studies began to reflect a positive relationship between family involvement and patient outcomes, more hospitals began designing patient rooms to include space and amenities to accommodate loved ones, such as pull-out beds, workstations, and other features. At the same time, research also indicated that private rooms help keep infection rates down. With private rooms came more options for including the family, and thus the family-centered model truly emerged.
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The recent practice of some hospitals to outsource their housekeeping and food services to hospitality vendors may be tied to patient satisfaction surveys that often showed low marks for food quality, room cleanliness, and other personal comfort expectations. Hospitals have on occasion enlisted hospitality-focused vendors to help improve those scores. As a result, not only are these hospitals providing more personal amenities like newspapers, expanded menus, and Internet access, but even the language used to discuss those features has shifted to a hospitality lexicon. Housekeeping, food service, and linens turn-over have become “room service,” “hospitality,” and “linens valet.” And as family members become additional “guests” in the room, these amenities are often extended to them as well, including concierge services in the lobby.
Of course, one of the most influential factors in the implementation of these models in the United States may be the open-market healthcare system itself. With more Baby Boomers spending time in healthcare facilities with aging, ill parents or as patients themselves, these features, comforts, and accommodations are becoming a clear preference. And, as in any competitive system, if two healthcare providers are comparable in most measurable ways, the intangibles and the opportunities for customer control and choice may help to sway decisions.