POD-TASKING: WakeMed Health developed its service model around three serving area "pods."
Patient meal service was increasingly underperforming as the hospital at WakeMed Health in Raleigh, NC, expanded. The system had traditionally used a standard straight-line approach to assemble trays for more than 30 years, but it took more and more time to accomplish the task as the years went on.
"We found it increasingly hard to finish one meal and wash the equipment before it was time to start the next meal," recalls Alice Franklin, food & nutrition services director. "So we began to explore other options."
The department looked at the popular room service model but it proved too labor intensive for the resources available. Eventually, the project team, which included Franklin, Patient Manager-Val Watson, Clinical Manager Martha Ellington and Production Manager Sandra Ray, decided upon a combination of programs.
Their solution: a system employing three different servings areas or "pods" that function as tray loading stations, each located in a different part of the kitchen to stay out of each other's way. Each encompasses two starter stations that can assemble meals for six carts at a time, with one employee loading everything except the hot food on each tray.
Once the hot food is added, the employee takes the carts directly to the patient floors while another six carts dock at the loading station with another employee to load them.
"We felt this would improve the accuracy of each tray," Franklin says. "Our goal was to improve accuracy, shorten the time it took to serve our trays and offer more personal contact with the patient."
The results have been impressive. Before the Pod system, straight-line assembly took about two hours, with an average accuracy of 82.6 percent. Since nurses delivered the trays, there was little contact between the food & nutrition services employees and the patients, their customers.
The Pods not only shortened assembly time and improved accuracy but allowed trays to be delivered much more consistently with expected meal times.
Other bonus features include improved tray appearance, more accountability for each tray (since specific individuals are responsible for each) and improved teamwork.
The system also allowed the implementation of a new host/ hostess program that allows food & nutrition associates to get patient-menu choices twice a day using order pads hooked to a wireless network.
"After implementation and the initial learning curve, we achieved a run time of 75 to 90 minutes," she notes proudly. "Meanwhile, our accuracy improved to an average of 90.2 percent."