Now that the health care industry is grappling with a growing emphasis on patient satisfaction, hospitality mecca — Las Vegas — is proving to be a ripe environment for the hospitality in health care conversation.
Health Care 'Checks in' with Hospitality
"Patient satisfaction is a pivotal topic for the modern medical field," Harrah Hotel College Dean Stowe Shoemaker told a group of health care professionals at the college's first Hospitality in Healthcare Conference, held in 2015.
Local health care advocacy group, Las Vegas HEALS, and the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority helped organize the event, bringing in dozens of hospital administrators, doctors and nurses from across the valley to meet with hospitality experts about specific strategies to improve the patient experience.
"Medical professionals are really charged with making the patient experience part of the cure" said Dr. Shoemaker, who served as a key researcher in a two-year patient loyalty study funded by University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. "This is something that requires training based on understanding patients' expectations and where hospitals fall short on these expectations."
What Is Driving the Focus on Patient Satisfaction?
"Health care providers recognize that patients today have more choices than ever before," explained Shoemaker. "And with choice comes power, especially given that customer perceptions can easily spread via the Internet creating a real impact on the business of health care."
Another huge financial factor, according to Shoemaker, is Medicare reimbursement.
"Since 2012, Medicare reimbursements have been based on scores from a standardized HCAHPS* survey," Shoemaker explained, "in which patients rate their experience when it comes to things like communication, responsiveness, promptness of service… many of the same performance metrics that are used in the hotel/resort business."
Where the Hospitality Industry Comes In...
"Creating a great customer experience is what we do," said Shoemaker, "and there are many fundamentals of hospitality that can translate to health care."
A panel of six Las Vegas hotel executives at April's conference pointed out the operational similarities between hotels and hospitals, which include the check in/check out processes, food and beverage service, laundry and cleaning service, etc. Panelists stressed the importance of every point of contact in a facility. "You should treat every guest like he/she is your very first guest of the day," said Jason Grattini, director of guest relations at the Mirage.
The hospitality panelists also discussed strategies to individualize the customer experience — a philosophy keynote speaker and MD Anderson physician, Dr. Joseph Steele, is already implementing at his Houston facility. "A patient coming in for a routine mammogram has very different needs than someone coming in for an extensive treatment," said Dr. Steele, whose organization designed specialized surveys for areas of particular care. "We need to build our tactical strategies according to the different kinds of patients we serve."
Training for the Future
Shoemaker and new UNLV School of Medicine Dean Dr. Barbara Atkinson are already in discussion about ways to integrate hospitality principals into the curriculum of the new medical school, which will welcome its charter class in fall 2017.
"This is not an if we will incorporate hospitality into our classes, "it is a how conversation?" said Dean Atkinson. "Laying the foundation of hospitality in our classes will help caregivers establish a new standard in health care," she added.
Meanwhile, discussions about the next year's Hospitality in Healthcare Conference are already underway. "We're hoping the conference will continue to grow and attract more and more health care groups from around the country," said Shoemaker. "We think it's the right time, and UNLV is the right place."