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February 28, 2008

UWMC’s room service scores high marks

Launched in late October, UWMC’s room service program is already receiving high marks from patients.

Under the new system, patients order from a restaurant-style menu at the time of their choosing. Meals are delivered no more than 45 minutes after an order is placed. Staff and leaders worked for months in advance so that the transition to room service occurred smoothly.

“The new food service (I heard it was new) was very good — surprisingly good,” said one patient in a recent random survey. “The food and food service was much better than I’ve experienced at other hospitals,” remarked another patient.

Comments like those make Walter Thurnhofer, Food & Nutrition Services director, smile. What’s more, survey results from Press-Ganey, a national organization that partners with U.S. hospitals to measure and improve quality of care, are phenomenal.

In response to a question about the quality of food, UWMC scored in the 70th percentile when ranked in the local market with 15 other hospitals. Previous survey results prior to the launch of room service found UWMC, quite frankly, below the 10th percentile.

“I’m delighted to see the results, but I’m not especially surprised,” said Thurnhofer. “Clearly our staff is performing at a very high level and I’m delighted to see that.”

Thurnhofer said one reason he is not surprised by the results is UWMC’s unique Patient Service Ambassadors. Ambassadors explain the room service program to new patients, provide them with the appropriate menu and assist patients with meal needs (getting the tray along with an extra beverage or condiments). Consultants who helped with the launch of room service in October also told Thurnhofer that UWMC had one of the best start-ups of any in the country in implementing room service.

UWMC Executive Director Stephen Zieniewicz has praised Thurnhofer and his staff in recent public meetings for the success of the program to date. Assistant Administrator Patty Riley also said she’s heard directly from patients who are pleased with room service. While in front of the medical center one recent afternoon, Riley said a patient who had just been discharged spoke with her about the service. “He said, ‘Well, I wanted to stay for one more salmon dinner but they told me it was time to check out,’” Riley said.

Patient and family advisory councils played a role in bringing room service to UWMC.

Patricia Giuliani, a former patient and member of the Inpatient Oncology Council, said patients receiving chemotherapy may not want to eat at 8 a.m., noon and 5 p.m. (which is how meals were served under the previous service).

“The whole concept of food on demand, or room service, is just wonderful for oncology patients,” she said. “To have room service available is a great thing.”

What’s next? Thurnhofer and his crew are keeping an eye on trends to see what items are popular and where adjustments may need to be made.

What trends has he seen? At lunchtime, a majority of patients order sandwiches, fruit plates and entrée salads, which was not expected. On the flip side, some 98 percent of patients order hot food for dinner. Fresh-grilled salmon is the most popular item, and ‘comfort foods’ (including macaroni and cheese, pot roast and meatloaf) are a close second.

Usage of milk has also dropped off, while requests for yogurt are up. “It’s not just for breakfast, but at all three meals,” said Thurnhofer.

Based on patient feedback and the Press-Ganey surveys, Thurnhofer and his staff may continue to stay pretty happy. The Food & Nutrition Services director said that one patient from Alaska penned a note to say the salmon at UWMC was among the best she had ever tasted (and her family makes its living in commercial fishing for salmon). “When you get a compliment like that, it means a lot,” he said, with a smile.