Marty’s Corner: Room for Thought in Room Service
Some terms in healthcare foodservice are clear cut and straightforward – like "NPO" means NPO, with no judgment call needed and no variation permitted. Other terms, like "room service", although interpreted in a very standard way in a hotel, can have myriad meanings in a hospital or long-term care facility.
Although traditionally referring to on-demand eating, where the patron simply picks up the phone whenever he or she is hungry, room service in many healthcare facilities is often a modified version of that old standard and I am intrigued by the wide variety of service styles that exist in the marketplace.
First of all, the patient or resident may not need to use a telephone if their facility’s food & nutrition services (FNS) department staff visits each patient daily to obtain their menu selections, or if they can use their in-room television to make those selections. If a patient is unable or unwilling to make his or her menu selections, for example, a family member may need to assist. And since family members may or may not be available at the time the FNS department staff come by to obtain those selections, the ability to order meals in advance is a critical feature of a flexible healthcare foodservice software system.
Another important feature is the ability to have a "blend" of meal service types. For example, although a few healthcare facilities with room service consider all patients eligible, some do not offer it to those on texture-modified diets, and others may not offer it to certain units in the facility (e.g., ICU). For those patients who are deemed to be non-room service eligible, a healthcare foodservice software system must be able to make appropriate selections for those patients or residents, taking into account their food preferences, allergies, and diet restrictions. The facility may desire traditional tray tickets for those patients, or prefer to use room service kitchen tickets. Some facilities use room service just for particular units, like maternity, whereas others want it available house-wide. The key here is flexibility – an "all or nothing" approach may not work.
Many facilities have increased their headcount significantly in order to provide the face-to-face contact that can make room service such a success in terms of patient or resident satisfaction. Others, especially multi-site systems, have consolidated room service call centers at a single site. And then you have a few situations where a hospital that has had room service in place for many years is backing away from it, citing the need to save tens of millions of dollars in their budget (for example, due to readmission penalties). Rather than going back to offering just two or three entrees at a meal, however, they may still offer a wide variety of selections, but with somewhat narrower meal start vs. end times.
With so many sites noting an increase in patient or resident satisfaction after room service is implemented, it’s certainly a service style that administrators and directors still look at seriously. When running room service in your facility or if you're thinking about adopting this model of meal service, consider the information in this article and how automation can amplify the benefits of that service. And don't forget, what sets a healthcare foodservice software system apart is its ability to be flexible and manage a variety of meal service options.
Article by: Marty Yadrick, MBI, MS, RDN, FAND - Director of Nutrition Informatics and former President of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics; Fusion, 2nd Quarter, 2015