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Miller believes the lower-cost "No Call Center Model" represents a better option for some hospital environments. He offers a Florida hospital case study as back-up evidence, pointing to  850-bed  Lakeland (FL) Regional Medical Center where John Biswanger (a DM&A employee) until recently served as the foodservice director. A master chef and now a DM&A senior vice president, Biswanger cheerfully describes himself as having spent the past four decades “on the bloody edge of what’s new in foodservice.”

Having introduced Room Service at Lakeland in 2007, Biswanger ditched the Call Center three years later. “Administration mandated we reduce staff by seven FTEs, so we scrambled to find  staff whose jobs we might do without. We decided to eliminate the Call Center, going back to the old ‘bedside data entry’ system. But we found we could continue offering room service by modifying its procedures with wireless technology.”

Room service call center

In Biswanger's approach, a patient's tray ticket is sent directly from bedside to the kitchen “pod” or room service production line.

He says that also retained the huge advantage hospitals gain by having increasing face-time between f/s staff and patients and generated an additional two to three percentage increase in the hospital's Press Ganey patient satisfaction scores.

Miller takes pains to point out that when a facility eliminates its call center (usually a multi-employee operation) or doesn’t implement one in the first place, that doesn't mean the traditional Diet Office is eliminated.

“In a 200-bed hospital or larger, one person still staffs the Diet Office and performs various duties. After all, the phone still rings for reasons other than placing meal orders.” He believes that, on balance, there are a number of reasons this approach could become the norm.

In DM&A's experience, “This approach requires one fewer paid FTE per 100 occupied beds," Miller says.  "Secondly, the meal order is taken by a person in the room vs. via the phone. That's perceived as more personal service by the patient.

“Another advantage is that nurses like having a foodservice ambassador taking the orders since, properly staffed, they can assist with a few routine functions related to patient care and food service that might otherwise have to be performed by nurses." Finally, he says, when such operations are staffed properly, floor ambassadors may be easier to reach by phone than is possible at peak periods, when patients phoning a call center may often have to be put on hold.

When pressed, Miller acknowledges that this approach can bring its own disadvantages, especially if it is pushed too far in terms of the workload placed on staff ambassadors. But in a coming era in which cost management will have an even higher priority in hospitals, he argues it is an important option if the traditional room service model becomes FTE-prohibitive.