What today’s competitive healthcare landscape means for foodservice operations

Healthcare system administrators are feeling the pressure more than ever. Implications of the Affordable Care Act, industry consolidation and increasingly discerning patients (with plenty of healthcare options) are the perfect storm for cutthroat competition. Foodservice operations can play a huge role in a healthcare system’s success, but only with a smart strategy in place. Here’s why and how.

Patient satisfaction – and health – ties directly to revenue

The Affordable Care Act put the squeeze on healthcare organizations in many ways, but implications for foodservice might not have been immediately apparent. As time passes, however, it’s clear that patient satisfaction scores and readmission rates (which impact reimbursements and revenue) are tied to onsite dining experiences. In fact, almost half of hospitals surveyed in FoodService Director’s 2016 Healthcare Census Report make menu changes based on HCAHPS surveys.

What’s more, consolidation, growth and innovation among healthcare systems are ratcheting up competition – forcing administrators to find ways to differentiate and boost revenue. This means offering more of what patients, visitors and staff are demanding – or risk losing them.

Retail foodservice is a boon for business

Retail foodservice (as opposed to patient meal service) is an agreed-upon area for growth, according to the aforementioned Healthcare Census Report: 69 percent of respondents say that this portion of their business has grown in the last two years. Lunch and breakfast are seen as the two biggest opportunities; other services including catering, cooking demos and coffee kiosks are also on respondents’ list of offerings. Some even cite full-service, in-house restaurants and food trucks as ways they’re ramping up dining options.

Growth requires new approaches to prep, cooking and service

A trend toward healthcare system consolidation means bigger and more complex foodservice operations. And with this comes an even bigger emphasis on efficiency and cost control. Mergers also mean that foodservice directors are in greater competition with other departments for a piece of the budgetary pie. This can make getting funding for a new kitchen or foodservice concept all the more challenging.

It’s a double-edged sword, since better dining options can improve patient satisfaction and overall revenue – crucial in this fiercely competitive landscape. To this end, healthcare foodservice directors must do more with less – finding efficiencies while still attracting and delighting diners.

Trends that move the needle

All that being said, healthcare foodservice directors are getting creative. This includes experimenting with room service instead of traditional trayline service to improve efficiencies; using automated ordering capabilities for diner convenience; answering the demand for more restaurant-style experiences (particularly in the senior-living segment); and incorporating healthier menu items to keep employee insurance costs in check, patient readmission rates down and generally meet demand – just to name a few examples. Taking advantage of these opportunities often depends on adjustments to equipment and supplies. Here are some things to consider:

  • Space restraints. In healthcare environments, space if often limited; what’s more, open kitchens and food prep areas require specific equipment. Look for products that are small but mighty – including ventless ovens, combi-ovens and induction cooktops.
  • Central or satellite? As healthcare systems consolidate and grow, moving toward a central kitchen might offer efficiencies. But other healthcare environments, such as senior living facilities, see the need to decentralize in order to create the authentic dining experience residents and patients prefer. Stations where chefs prepare food on-demand and made-to-order are a prime example.
  • Sustainability. As in any segment of the foodservice industry, sustainability is a hot topic – both to satisfy corporate social responsibility initiatives and cost savings. Everywhere you turn, equipment and supplies manufacturers are answering the call with water- and energy-saving equipment, biodegradable or recycled servingware and food-waste-eliminating innovations.
  • The experience. As mentioned above, consumers demand more and more elevated dining experiences – and healthcare environments are no exception. A room service program may require upgraded servingware; while new retail dining options call for aesthetically pleasing and trend-enabling equipment. Patient satisfaction scores – and revenue – depend on it.

What issues are you facing in your healthcare foodservice operations, and what are your creative solutions?

See the latest equipment and supplies innovations for healthcare foodservice professionals – all in one place – at The NAFEM Show.

Categories: Healthcare

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