Healthcare Food Service Evolution

Posted on April 10, 2012


The stances outlined in my previous ‘hospital-as-hotel vs. hospital-as-healer’ post are not so stark or easily simplified. All hospitals seek to heal; however, some are paying more attention to patient satisfaction, and investing in improving those scores, more than others. Time will tell if this strategy is fruitful in the long term.

As part of this satisfaction approach, some hospitals are investing in improved cuisine.  Medical Design + Construction (MC+D) did a spotlight on kitchens and food service a couple months ago, which reinforced this message.  The article noted increased emphasis on “a level of quality and variety that had rarely been found in institutional settings.”  Improved cafes (definitely not cafeterias) help support “the emotional needs of patients and families to increased [sic] efficiency, income generation and brand support.” 

The focus of the article was that food service is getting more attention, and it should to some extent.  Hospitals I know do not want to drive their employees out of their building for lack of quality options for lunch.  Nor do they want to repulse patients, despite their captive audience, with poor offerings. Cafes in hospitals should not be shorted in the things that lure in typical visitors to restaurants:  customer service, clean, natural light, comfortable seating, and a little bit of ambiance or character. As long as the investment in those aspects is not gratuitous, I think most people feel food service is not contributing to the healthcare cost increase associated with the hospitals-as-hotels argument.

A companion piece in MC+D on kitchen technology, entitled “Recycle, Reuse” was quite interesting.  It examined the waste stream created by leftover food and food prep, and how waste handling in food service is changing.  An earlier blog post noted how waste stream handling was evolving to be greener and more financially rewarding for hospitals.  It seems now hospitals are investing in kitchen equipment like pulper / extractors, which mash food waste and then take out the water to reduce its volume.  Or digesters, which break down food waste into liquid (by way of microorganisms) so it can be flushed with waste water.  Or heat treatment to dry scraps for use as compost.  All of these help reduce food waste in hospitals.

I am intrigued with the continuing development of machines and technology to reduce waste. It proves there is not only a market for sustainable behavior, but a legitimate return on investment discussion as well. It proves even with trash, food or otherwise, sometimes a hospital needs to spend money to save money.