Healthcare News & Insights

Which should come first for hospitals: Patient safety or creature comforts?

Hospitals of all sizes are spending millions of dollars on aesthetic improvements designed to lure in patients. They’re putting in the works, including private rooms with flat-screen TVs. But is this a viable business strategy – or a wasteful use of resources better suited for improving patient safety?

78619282An article in the New York Times points out that some hospitals even offer their patients on-site nail salons and 24-hour room service, amenities you were once more likely to find in a hotel than a hospital.

To justify these changes, hospitals point to their patients. The healthcare landscape has become more competitive. Patients have a lot of choices when it comes to receiving care, and they’d prefer to visit a hospital that focuses on all their needs instead of merely treating their illnesses.

Although these offerings can be pricey, they’re touted as being helpful to a hospital’s bottom line. After all, happier patients report being more satisfied with their hospital and the level of care they receive. And the higher those scores are, the better off a hospital will be in the eyes of payors as the industry shifts toward a model where patient satisfaction is tied to reimbursement.

The problem: This shift in focus can mean patient safety is left behind in favor of the bells and whistles. As Ashish Jha writes on Cognoscenti, the news and opinion page for Boston’s NPR affiliate:

The fanciest facilities become the “must have” in any insurance network. Insurance companies have a hard time getting and retaining customers if their network excludes the hospitals with beautiful lobbies, nice salons and great food. So, we now have an arms race — who can be the fanciest hospital in town. There is no race for who can be the safest hospital in town.

Projections for the future

In the short-term, it may be a more cost-effective strategy for a hospital to make cosmetic upgrades instead of investing in large-scale programs designed to provide safer patient care, as the financial return may not be as high from these programs.  Payors may initially be happier with this approach, too.

But the long-term outlook isn’t good. No matter how high patients rate fancier hospitals, their care does suffer. In fact, although patients perceive their care to be better when it’s provided at a more luxurious hospital, the numbers say otherwise.

As reported in ScienceDaily, a recent study published in Risk Management and Insurance Review found that hospitals with lower patient satisfaction scores actually have better outcomes than those patients like better.

Why? Because amenities like quiet private rooms and high-end cuisine aren’t typically found in large, busy hospitals where staff spend the bulk of their efforts focusing on what really matters: patient care.

Although patients at these hospitals may not find their stay quite as relaxing as a summertime retreat, they’re more likely to come out alive and well. This fact gets lost in the shuffle when implementing improvements.

Another example: Those private rooms, made out to improve patient comfort while decreasing the risk of spreading infection? They may not be that effective at either one. According to an article in FierceHealthcare, research has found only a minor decrease in the likelihood of contracting an infection when a patient’s placed in a private room. And the isolating experience of being alone in a hospital room may actually be more distressing to some patients.

Given these findings, it might be better to take the money you were thinking of spending on hiring an organic chef or building an in-house spa and put it toward creating programs to reduce medical errors.

This may be a harder sell at the moment. Doing so will likely put your hospital ahead of the game, though. It’s only a matter of time before those satisfaction scores payors are so focused on take a back seat to patient safety. Carriers will soon realize that the cost of providing substandard care vastly outweighs the boost in business from hospital perks.

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