Why some hospitals are hiring professional chefs for upscale dining

Efforts to improve the patient experience have manifested in virtually every aspect of the episode of care, including patients' hospital food. All around the country, medical centers are turning to professional chefs to upgrade their menus and offer room service-style dining to improve the healing process and patient satisfaction, according to the Portland Press Herald.

"There's no question, people do make choices about their healthcare now, and not just about the clinical outcomes," said Mike Sabo, director of hospitality services at Southern Maine Health Care in Biddeford, according to the report. "Clearly, that's primary, but they're also looking for the rest of the package that goes with it, and food is a part of it."

In addition to appealing to the palettes of potential new "customers," hospitals are incentivized under the Affordable Care Act to achieve higher patient satisfaction, as federal reimbursement is increasingly being linked to HCAHPS scores.

According to Ryan Conklin, executive chef at Raleigh, N.C.-based UNC REX Healthcare, hospitals may soon begin marketing their food on billboards or bus banners, especially in particularly competitive healthcare markets. At REX Healthcare, Mr. Conklin has developed a national reputation for elevating hospital cuisine, according to the report.

"Patients are becoming much more educated about food," said Mr. Conklin. "They're sitting in their beds watching cooking shows with cooking demos. The expectations are so much higher now. You're seeing a lot more of a chef presence coming into the healthcare scene, and it's only going to get stronger in the years down the road as the baby boomers become more reliant on healthcare organizations."

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