About 84 percent of survey participants at Rex Hospital in North Carolina said that they would recommend the hospital to others, a number that is at least 10 percent above the national average. Hospital officials attribute their high rate of patient satisfaction to one thing: better food.
"Food service helps the overall experience," said Jim McGrody, director of food and nutrition at Rex.
According to USA Today, cuisine changes like the ones at Rex Hospital may begin taking place nationwide because healthcare reforms under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), commonly referred to as "Obamacare," deliver monetary incentives to hospitals based on their performance in patient satisfaction surveys.
Surprisingly, patients at Rex look forward to the food. "It means I get three more, really good meals," said Lauren Heath, who had to spend an extra day in the hospital after giving birth. "The food is amazing."
The success of Rex's menu could be attributable to its departure from the standard chicken, fish, yogurt, and soupy jell-o that most hospitals serve. Those options have been traded in for ginger-glazed salmon, Caribbean-grilled chicken salads, and philly-style cheesesteaks among other things.
"Health care reform is pushing a lot of these changes," said Richard Schenkel, CEO of Unidine, a 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.
Patient-satisfaction scores are assessed based on questionnaires distributed to patients during their stays. High-performing hospitals will receive a Medicare "bonus" from the government, while low-performing hospitals will receive reimbursement rate cuts. Meeting procedural rules under Obamacare is easier for hospitals because there are specific things that hospitals must do to comply. However, patient satisfaction is more subjective, leaving hospital administrators scrambling to figure out what works and what doesn't in order to keep their patients happy. And, what's successful for one hospital (i.e. improving the food) could lead to other hospitals giving it a try.
At Rex, patients enjoy a hotel room-service style program. They can order food anytime, with an array of unique dish options. Other hospitals have gardens where they grow their own vegetables and even make puree-style treats for patients' special dietary needs. Such personalization keeps patients happy, inspiring them to give high marks on the patient satisfaction surveys.
"It's been a game-changer for us," Angelo Mojica, director of food and nutrition services at University of North Carolina, told USA Today.