Support Services: The Tipping Point in a Hospital’s Culture of Hospitality

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By Gary Goettl 

As patient expectations continue to grow with the changing health care industry, so too must the way organizations deliver care also change. That includes not just delivering high-quality care to patients, but providing a caring, hospitable environment to heal. 

With so much focus on creating the best possible outcomes, it can be easy to overlook the vital role support services plays in the delivery of care. These services, which include nutrition services, housekeeping and other auxiliary services, can be a tipping point in creating and maintaining a culture of hospitality throughout the organization.

A recent study on understanding patient reactions to a hospitality setting in hospitals, found that high-end material finishes and hospitality-certified health care staff were the two greatest influences on patient preference for where they choose to receive care. The patient also noted that some patients were willing to pay as much as 13% more for hotel-like hospital rooms. These findings illustrate why having a culture of hospitality can be a difference-maker in hospital operations. 

The word hospitality is defined as the friendly and generous reception and entertainment of guests, visitors, or strangers. When one looks at the word hospitality itself, we find “hospital” with Latin origins meaning a guest-chamber, lodging or inn.

The idea of hospitality is already deeply ingrained in the service in which a hospital provides, and yet many times, this philosophy is missing from the culture of health care organizations. 

Where historically, hospitals could be seen as a cold, sterile environment where patients were treated and discharged, now hospitals are shifting this perspective to embrace its role as a place of comfort, rest and healing. 

In recent years, modern consumers, and specifically patients, have come to expect hospitality in a range of businesses and services – from health services to retail or fast food. When one talks about excellence in hospitality, hotels and resorts come to mind. These are organizations that have built a reputation for delivering high-quality support services and customer service time and time again. 

Health care organizations are becoming increasingly aware of the ways that these types of businesses create customer loyalty and satisfaction, and the positive impact this ultimately has on the work environment and the bottom line. 

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics points to a growing industry, with healthcare occupations projected to grow 14 percent from 2018 to 2028, faster than the average for all occupations, which will add about 1.9 million new jobs over the next decade. Those are nearly two million new employees who will need to embrace a culture of hospitality. 

But to create a true culture of hospitality within health care organizations, it’s critical to have a cultural shift in every aspect of care they provide. In health care, there are a range of people who depend on an organization for a variety of needs. This includes patients, families, hospital visitors, and employees – nurses, doctors and clinicians. All of these positive interactions are vital in fostering an atmosphere of hospitality. 

A patient can be “touched” by dozens of different people during their stay at a hospital; they will have many points of contact from admission, to surgery, to post-operative care, discharge and follow up. Each touchpoint should provide the highest level of hospitality to the patients they are privileged to serve. 

All of these important caregivers contribute to a culture of hospitality, which is why it’s imperative as support services professionals, they are engaged, educated and ready to go. That cultural shift has to start at the top. Every day, health care leaders need to be positive and supportive, and level-up those whom they interact with on a daily basis. 

There are many ways health care leaders can encourage hospital associates to strive for a culture of excellence in hospitality:

  • Reward those who provide a high level of care and hospitality to patients
  • Hold those accountable who break protocol and do not make hospitality top of mind
  • Consistently make hospitality and a culture of excellence a key topic in daily huddles and conversations 
  • Include hospitality and service excellence as a discussion in all meetings, every time
  • Highlight and recognize examples of great hospitality within the organizations through newsletters, huddles and social media  

When a culture of hospitality is present, it’s easily noticeable to visitors and staff alike. Patients can truly feel the difference inside a hospitable organization when the culture is shining, much in the same way a customer is at ease and feels taken care of inside a world-class hotel or resort. 

There are several key differentiators that can be implemented to foster a culture of hospitality at a hospital. Support services staff should always: 

  • Give guests right of way in hallways, and open doors for guests 
  • Maintain poise and good posture at all times 
  • Speak politely, softly and professionally to all guests 
  • Treat colleagues in the same manner always 
  • Do not huddle in groups with co-workers
  • Assume you are always in view of a guest 
  • Use courteous speech – “Please” “Thank You” “My Pleasure” 
  • Never use strong or abusive language 
  • Offer to carry bags for a guest and escort them when they are lost 

The patient and visitors must be held as the most important person in the facility. Always treat them as if they are a guest in one’s own home. Patients should be fully attended by staff and receive the highest quality care and attention before being sent home in a timely fashion. 

Every staff member plays an important role in providing the highest level of care to patients and making them feel at home during their stay. When leadership has made a culture of hospitality a priority, it will be a differentiator for the organization; the hospital will be known as the “nice hospital” in the community. Patients will tell their family and friends about their welcoming experience and word of mouth will spread organically. 

Benefits from an ingrained culture of hospitality include greater profitability, improved compliance, better staff morale, reduced turnover and greater patient retention. When the level of care rises, so do patient satisfaction scores, which increases productivity, profitability and reimbursements. It’s a win-win situation for everyone. 

This is why hospitality is so crucial to the success of an organization. Support services, when kept top of mind and done right, will become engrained in the DNA of the hospital and have a very positive effect from every interaction. This will not only elevate the level of care an organization provides to the community, but create a lasting culture that benefits patients, visitors and associates alike.  

About Gary Goettl

Gary Goettl is a principal and senior consultant for Kestgo Group’s healthcare team. He has over 25 years of industry experience in support service operations and management, leading food service and environmental service initiatives to improve the patient experience, and coworker engagement.

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