A page from McDonald's playbook: Why hospitals need to fix their "patties" first

McDonald's may be on its way to overcoming — or at least to addressing — some of the health issues associated with its fast food. Yesterday, new McDonald's CEO Steve Easterbrook announced that within the next two years, the fast food dynamo will only use chickens "raised without antibiotics important to human medicine," and later in 2015 will begin using milk from cows that are not given rbST, an artificial growth hormone, according to Fortune.

This move focused on quality improvement marks a significant departure from the strategic initiatives of former McDonald's CEO, Don Thompson, who emphasized a "Create Your Taste" strategy aimed to guide customers' attention to the various topping options available instead of what the patties are actually made of.

McDonald's knows it has a perception issue. "The informal eating-out industry, most specifically the quick-service industry, is under a much higher level of scrutiny today than I've seen at my time in McDonald's. People today are questioning the integrity and the quality at the food at a much higher level," Mr. Thompson said in November, according to the report.

The notion of the more informed, savvier consumer with a greater interest in quality is present in healthcare, too.

Mr. Thompson's response to this issue was to implement a series of promotional ads that aimed to change consumers' perceptions that McDonald's serves low quality meat and that, overall, the food is unhealthy.

Mr. Easterbrook's new approach is not to try to change the minds of consumers, but rather to employ the solution the franchise really needs, which is to become better aligned with today's consumers' demands and actually improve the quality of the food.

McDonald's, with its massive scale and brand identity, could become a significant driver of change in the fast food industry and its suppliers. According to Fortune, this move could initiate a new focus on the quality of fast food and even establish new quality standards.

Relating a McDonald's Big Mac to healthcare may seem counterintuitive, but if you look at Mr. Easterbrook's emphasis on quality improvement, McDonald's can serve as a pretty good example for some of healthcare's goals — and Mr. Thompson's attempt at a solution could highlight what healthcare sometimes gets wrong.

People don't go to the hospital for extravagances like gourmet meals, chic interior design or fountains in the lobby. People go to the hospital to get care when they are sick, and at the end of the day, quality is what counts.

According to a recent study in the Journal of Hospital Medicine, new research suggests the expensive renovation projects aimed at improving the care environment do not positively impact patient satisfaction scores.

In the study, researchers compared results of satisfaction surveys from patients treated in a newly built clinic to those treated in an existing clinic at Baltimore-based Johns Hopkins Medicine. The data used for the study came from Press Ganey surveys and CMS' Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems Survey.

While patients in the new clinic reported 31.2 percent greater satisfaction with the pleasantness of the décor and 20.3 percent greater satisfaction with comfort and visitor accommodation compared with patients in the older clinic, all patients reported relatively equal satisfaction with providers and ancillary staff.

Improved amenities are certainly nice, but hospital and health systems' biggest priorities are best focused on improving the quality of care.

"Hospital administrators should not use outdated facilities as an excuse for suboptimal provider satisfaction scores," the authors of the study wrote.

Likewise, hospitals and health systems will be better equipped to provide satisfactory experiences to patients if they do not rely on unnecessary luxuries to enhance scores.

Although hospitals probably do not want to begin serving McDonald's to their patients, the fast food company can serve as a reminder that improving quality — and making the big changes this requires — will always have the biggest impact on consumer satisfaction.

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