In the business of Patient Experience, nothing is more valuable than having a patient experience of your own. Two of my hospital stays were the joyful occasions when I welcomed my children into the world. I recall with fondness two things about the day my son was born, besides of course my elation at his healthy birth. After all these years I still remember the name of my exceptionally competent and compassionate nurse and – you may be surprised to know – I remember what I had for lunch.
Flashback twenty-two years ago to a dark summer morning when heat-fueled thunderstorms rolled across the Midwest prairie. Sheltered from the raging weather in my hospital room, my focus was on an entirely different force of nature. My dignity and decorum were long gone as I stood beside my bed, leaning into the best OB nurse ever, Leah. I had been in labor since the day before and was completely exhausted mentally and physically. It was mid-morning, and I was mid-contraction when the cheerful food service associate called from the doorway to Leah, “Do you think she’ll need a lunch tray?”
Leah’s reply sounded doubtful, but suddenly, I had new-found motivation!
Since my diagnosis of gestational diabetes five months prior, I hadn’t touched processed sugar, not a cookie, not a pastry, not a single frosted flake. According to my doctor’s explanation, the way my body processed sugar would return to normal once I delivered. So when I heard lunch was in jeopardy, I blurted out (as best I could between my hee-hee-hoo’s), “I’ll be done by noon! Chocolate cake!”
I’m pleased to say the prospect of dessert powered me through. Benjamin Todd entered the world at 11:06 a.m., all wrapped up just in time for my lunch tray. With my bundle of joy in one arm, I thoroughly enjoyed what was, at that moment, the best chocolate cake I ever ate.
While hospital food sometimes gets a bad rap, I know my experience was not unique. Aside from simply providing nutrition to sustain the hospitalized patient, food carries a much greater importance than one might imagine. In a time and place where stress and uncertainty abound, favorite foods can be a source of comfort and can help patients feel at home in an unfamiliar place. When life’s circumstances feel out of control, the simple act of choosing your meal can be empowering. Besides discharge, mealtime is one of the few things a patient may look forward to during their hospital stay. While most staff enter the room to interrogate, poke, and prod, those delivering the trays get some of the warmest welcomes. Is it any wonder? Food is a welcome respite!
For hospitals that have implemented an interactive patient engagement solution, adding an on-screen meal ordering application is often a next step in making full use of its capabilities. Patients are using a device they are already familiar with to access education, see their schedule, view entertainment, and now order room service. If it sounds like a luxury resort, there’s a reason. Patient satisfaction impacts a hospital’s bottom line, and amenities like these have a proven positive impact on hospital scores.
On-screen meal ordering has become a mainstream option these days. Many of us go online instead of picking up the phone to order a pizza. Some casual restaurants will even let you order online prior to arriving or on a touchscreen device at the table. Whenever I have the choice, I prefer automated ordering. I love that it’s pressure free. It allows me all the time I need to browse, weigh my options, and make my decisions (and change my mind if I want) without taking up someone else’s time.
While I can order extra cheese from Dominos if I want, one of the differences and key components to a dietary interface in a hospital is its ability to filter food choices. Avidex's dietary interface for SmarTigr integrates with a hospital’s dietary management system and patient’s EMR to display only the food items allowed per the patient’s diet order. Imagine the benefits for a Pediatric unit. I’ve observed the call center in a pediatric hospital, and I can tell you it’s a difficult conversation when you have to explain to a child why he can’t have the pizza that appears on the printed menu.
In addition to the standard display and ordering features, custom integrations allow hospitals to select which diets can be ordered via the on-screen option and provide instructions if NPO (nothing by mouth). If a patient’s diet is too complex, or if a consultation or intervention is needed, the meal ordering application can be restricted from display from that patient’s television or device.
Dieticians and educators can even use the meal ordering application as a teaching tool as they walk through the food selection process with a patient. Optional on-screen nutritional information helps patients practice skills they’ll need to manage their health after discharge in a setting where guidance and answers are readily available.
These amenities can do more than increase patient satisfaction; meal ordering interfaces can improve staff efficiency and reduce waste for further cost savings. Research shows the patient-centered approach of delivering only what food items the patient requested reduces food waste on average by 25%. In addition, having an alternate option for meal ordering can help decrease call volume and hold times, especially helpful during peak times around lunch and dinner. Further efficiencies can be recognized by sending personalized on-screen reminders to patients who may have forgotten to place their order. It’s a powerful thing when the message comes directly to you. “Mr. Jones – it’s almost lunchtime. Would you like to order now?”
Making the hospital experience more personal and less institutional is the goal all hospitals are working to achieve. In a place where you can’t even get to the bathroom without someone else’s help, knowing you have choices and control over anything can be a ray of sunshine in a storm. It’s no surprise that something as simple as deciding what and when you’ll eat can be a true patient satisfier. After all, choice is empowering. Yes, you can have your cake and eat it too!
About the Author
Jennifer Jenkinson joined the TeleHealth Services family in 2016 as a Senior Client Support Manager. She brings over 10 years of expertise in interactive patient engagement and education solutions along with a proven track record of success with many of the nation’s leading hospitals and health systems. Jennifer is based in Michigan, supporting Tigr clients in the Great Lakes region in their efforts to improve patient satisfaction and outcomes.
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