Jan 17 2012

Room Service with a Smile

U-M’s Patient Food and Nutrition Services takes customer service to the next level.

In 2012, renovations to Level B2 of University Hospital will allow Patient Food and Nutrition Services to implement a “room service” delivery model, giving patients in UH and the Cardiovascular Center more control over the timing and selection of the food they receive. 

But for Associate Director of Patient Food Service Ann MacLean, her staff is just as important in creating the ideal patient care experience.

“We want to ensure that our patients can not only expect great food delivered when they want it, but that their food will be served by knowledgeable and caring staff,” she says.

Delivering meals to patients can be a complicated process. In addition to being able to operate food service equipment, tray passers need a working knowledge of special diets, NPO procedures (which stands for Nil Per Os, Latin for Nothing by Mouth), patient identification protocol, and complex isolation precautions. They must integrate this knowledge with exceptional customer service skills to interact effectively with a diverse spectrum of people including patients, family members and hospital staff.

PFANS has developed several classes to help food service staff enhance their customer service skills. MacLean says one of the most effective initiatives involves having employees role play as if they were patients being served food in their hospital bed. Physical impairments are simulated for employees with ear plugs, foggy glasses and weights to give them a first-hand perspective of how those with impairments experience dining at UH. A video of this exercise is available here.

The Targeted Work Skills Program develops:

  • Increased empathy and compassion
  • Enhanced ability to handle complex customer service issues requiring “on the spot” decision making and follow through
  • Better communication with patients and colleagues
  • Stronger work relationships
  • Enhanced cultural competence

In 2010, PFANS also secured a grant to develop a Targeted Work Skills Program with the assistance of Steve Raymond, director of Leadership and Staff Development, and in partnership with Ann Arbor Public Schools Adult Education. Since then, more than 70 employees who serve or prepare trays for patients have gone through the 8-week program.

Upon completion of the program, many staff members said that they improved their self-awareness and grew personally.

Kristin Sisty, food service training specialist, who worked with instructors to help facilitate the program says, “The experience has allowed our staff to not only better the lives and recovery of our patients through every kind word and non-verbal gesture given, but it has also taught the staff how to improve interactions with co-workers and people they interact with outside of work.” 

Benchmarking scores related to the courtesy of staff members serving patient meals jumped after the training, and have continued on a steady rise.

“We want this to feel more like a restaurant or hotel rather than an institutional experience. We are continually working to exceed our patients’ expectations,” says MacLean.

One Response to “Room Service with a Smile”

  1. James Lanum says:

    I would love to become part of the PFANS Team. I worked for over a decade at a hospice center and now I work at an assisted living facility, both in the food services department. The ideal food service experience is truly my passion and I’m certain my past and current employment experiences would be an asset to your program.

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