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Hospital Perks and the Patient Experience

With offerings like hotel-style room service, massage therapy and magnificent views, hospitals are increasingly touting their luxury services in a bid to gain market share. How important is the patient experience? Should our health care system pay for these amenities? New research addresses the pampered patient.

From hotel-style room service to massage therapy to magnificent views, hospitals are increasingly touting their luxury services in a bid to gain market share — especially in competitive urban markets.

This trend raises important questions about the role of amenities in hospital care. The way we value the patient experience can have a significant impact on health care costs, according to new research by Dana Goldman of the School of Policy, Planning, and Development and the USC School of Pharmacy; John Romley of the School of Policy, Planning, and Development; and a RAND colleague.

“Though amenities have long been relevant to hospital competition, they seem to have increased in importance — perhaps because patients now have more say in selecting hospitals,” Romley says.

Surveys and empirical evidence seem to confirm that patients increasingly value the non-clinical experience more than measures of quality like a hospital’s risk-adjusted mortality rate.

For example, Medicare patients often don’t choose the hospital nearest to them, the researchers point out in an article in The New England Journal of Medicine. Patients are willing to travel… and not necessarily for better clinical care, even in cases involving heart attack, in which the risk of death should be the overriding concern.

Goldman and Romley, both with USC’s Schaeffer Center for Health Policy and Economics, identify a strong correlation between the quality of a hospital’s amenities and patient numbers. Improved perks also have a significant effect on hospital volume.

“A hospital seeking to strengthen its financial position might view investment in amenities as a sound strategy to attract patients,” Goldman says. “The question is, however, what effect such a strategy might have on patients’ outcomes as well as on overall health care costs.” He points out that our health care system currently pays for these perks.

The researchers note that if amenities create environments that patients and medical providers prefer, the result may be better treatment and improved health outcomes.

“As health care reform moves forward, we need to decide whether amenities are a valuable part of the hospital experience,” Romley says. “If they are, policymakers should include them in the measures for overall quality, prices and productivity.”

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