Hospitals Offer Amenities to Drive Patient Volume | The recession was bad for business in nearly every industry including healthcare, where patient volume at hospitals declined as people put off elective surgeries and procedures. But as the economy rebounds, some hospitals are abandoning austerity and moving in the other direction with an emphasis on making hospitals more like spas.

Kaiser Permanente recently upgraded the menu at some of its hospitals to include entrees such as marinated loin of pork, fresh fruit and vegetables, and other items patients would associate more with an upscale restaurant than a hospital kitchen.

Another example is Tampa’s Center for Women’s Oncology at the Moffitt Cancer Center, which remodeled its facility to look like a high-end hotel and added services such as spa treatments and massages.  “Maybe we can’t be the Ritz-Carlton,” said Jonathan Lancaster, director of the Moffitt Cancer Center. “But we should be able to at least make it like a Hyatt.”

From a marketing standpoint, amenities that make patients feel like they’re staying at a hotel are just as – if not more important – than a reputation for quality clinical care when it comes to driving patient volume. Or least that was the conclusion of a 2010 study titled “The Emerging Importance of Patient Amenities in Hospital Care.”

The study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in December 2010 found that, “improvements to amenities typically cost hospitals more than improvements in quality of care, but improved amenities have a greater effect on hospital volume.”

The study used as an example a 2008 remodel of the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles that was accompanied by a marketing campaign called “A Better Way to Get Better.” The multi-media campaign focused on amenities the hospital had to offer, including family-friendly rooms and hotel-style meal service. And the campaign produced results. After two years, the number of people treated at Ronald Reagan UCLA who would recommend it or other UCLA hospitals to friends increased from 71% to 85%.

The study concluded that “in crowded hospital markets, especially in areas populated by well-insured patients, such amenities play an increasing role in the competition for market share.”

A 2008 study co-authored by John Romley, MD, for the RAND Corporation reached similar conclusions. The study of Los Angeles-area hospitals found “an increase in a hospital’s amenities increased its demand among patients studied by 38.4%.” That compared to just a 12.7% increase in demand among patients made aware of a hospital’s superior clinical standards of care.

Romley said it makes sense for patients to consider what a hospital has to offer in terms of services. “Why wouldn’t we expect patients to care about the broader experience?” said Romley. “This is a very consumer-oriented culture. It would almost be shocking if patients didn’t care about some of these things.”

There’s no doubt that hospitals are always going to promote quality of care above all other factors when marketing to the local community. But these studies should provide food for thought – no pun intended- when it comes to upgrading meals and other amenities a hospital can offer to patients during their stay.

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