Nope, that’s not a typo. Saskatchewan patients are 4 (!) times more likely to rate a hospital as 10 out of 10 if they rated the quality of food they were served during their stay as excellent (versus poor, fair, good, or very good).
That, for me, was THE takehome message from a hot-off-the-press report that identifies the top factors influencing patients’ assessment of their hospital stay.
So why IS food such a big deal for people? I sat down with my colleague Ozlem Sari, to get her take on the finding. Ozlem oversaw this research. She thinks that maybe food is an “experience changer”: “You are out of your element in a hospital. You are sick, in a strange place, interacting with strangers. Food may be a familiar element. It can make you feel normal.”
We agreed that a lot of our fond memories — of family gatherings, outings with friends, trips — are closely tied to our senses – the sights, the smells, the tastes of those experiences. Maybe there’s something similar going on with hospital meals?
Thankfully, I haven’t had any opportunities to do my own investigative research on food in hospitals – touch wood. So I decided to check in with my mother, who has had a number of surgeries over the past 15 years — most recently this fall.
Her take on the culinary component of her most recent care experience: “The food was as good as I would expect…for a hospital. It was hot. It wasn’t that bad.” My mother admits she doesn’t have particularly high expectations for hospital food, so she hasn’t been disappointed. I wondered aloud whether maybe it’s a generational thing. Uh-uh. She figures my father would have higher expectations: what she could live with for a meal, he’d likely complain about (but only to her, mind you, not to hospital staff).
Our conversation was winding down, when it came to her: “It’s because meal times are a major event when you’re in hospital. When your only breaks are reading and walking the halls, then the arrival of that food at meal times is a BIG DEAL.” She said she chuckled to herself when she heard other patients agonizing over what they should pick for their upcoming snacks and meals. “But when you’re bored, and there’s so little going on, the meals really are a highlight in your day.”
When I did a hallway poll, my Communications colleague Jade Gulash wondered if it goes to the issue of control. In the midst of all the poking and prodding in hospital — which you don’t have much control over — one spot where you do get some choice is on the little card asking what you want to eat at your next meal.
What do you think? Why does food have such a powerful effect on what patients think about their time in hospital? Why does it appear to offer the biggest bang for the buck, when it comes to improvement? And now that we know it does, what do we do about it? The report includes a list of improvement ideas that health regions and facilities can test.
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