Why the hotel industry should not be a model for hospitals

Making health care more patient-centered is rightly on the agenda for all hospital administrations across the United States. The need to give our patients the best “service” possible has also been pushed to the forefront as a result of reimbursement models which place more of an emphasis on patient satisfaction.

Unfortunately, this has led to some in the hospital industry making comparisons with hotels, and how hospitals can take lessons from the best hotels in providing exceptional customer service. This is a very perilous path to tread. That’s because while we strive for excellent patient care to the highest medical standards in a comfortable environment, hospitals are simply not hotels.

First, hotels are places that everyone wants to be in. Hospitals are places no right-minded person ever wants to be! Hotels are also in extreme competition with one another, and operate in a completely free market environment where costs can be relatively controlled and budgets set accordingly based on lots of fixed costs.

Health care is quite the opposite. Hospitals are subject to strict regulatory oversight and dependent on a number of different sources for their income. There isn’t a straight line between what the patient or their insurance pays, and what the hospital actually receives.

When it comes to “satisfying customers” of course everyone in health care wants happily cured patients. But it is also true that what some patients think may be good for them, like getting as many scans as possible or increasing their narcotic dosing, may not, in fact, be particularly good for them. As harsh and paternalistic as it may sound, in health care, the patient is not always right.

Finally, hospitals are highly emotionally charged places where people are at their most vulnerable, and life and death decisions are made, quite literally, in a heartbeat. Doctors, nurses and other health care professionals work in very stressful fast-paced environments. Asking why these professionals can’t be more like hotel staff or making a simple statement like “hospitals need to be more like hotels” is like comparing apples to oranges, and may indeed even sound patronizing to anyone at the health care frontline. That’s why I say yes to making hospitals more comfortable and pleasant, but no to comparing a hospital with a hotel.

Benjamin Levin is an internal medicine physician and the co-founder, DocsDox.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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