People say they’d pay for swanky hospital rooms

(Credit: iStockphoto)

Patients are willing to spend 38 percent more for a hospital room if it has the right kind of hotel-quality upgrades, according to new research.

Luxuries like marble bathtubs and butlers and maids are available in some hospitals, abroad and the United States. These deluxe private hospital rooms can cost thousands of dollars out of pocket for just one night.

“In the past, traditionally, the hospitality industry has been focused on restaurants or lodging and hotels, but now I think a growing focus on patient satisfaction has hospitals turning to a more customer-centric model,” says principal investigator Courtney Suess-Raeisinafchi, an assistant professor at Boston University’s School of Hospitality Administration. “That’s been a great change that’s introduced a lot of attention on the physical environment as well as service.”

hospital room with luxuries
Study participants viewed pictures of hospital rooms and rated how likely they would be to stay there. Flat-screen TV, high-end finishes, and hospitality-trained staff were highly rated features. (Credit: Courtney Suess-Raeisinafchi)

The study surveyed about 400 people online, all of whom had been in a hospital in the past six months. Participants looked at 40 custom-designed renderings of hospital rooms, containing various combinations of hotel amenities. Suess-Raeisinafchi and co-investigator Makarand Mody, assistant professor of hospitality marketing, were interested in which kinds of amenities patients seemed to like the most in hospital rooms, testing 18 factors including interior design, health care service, and food options.

For example, one of the sample hospital rooms might have a bed sporting luxury sheets, a kitchenette in the corner, and a fluffy bathrobe hanging on the bathroom door. Another might have a plain bed, but also a painting on the wall and a health care staff member who had been trained in hospitality service standing by. All of the amenities were labeled for easy identification. Participants rated how likely they were to pick each hospital room if they had to stay there, and the researchers analyzed the results to see which amenities had the most impact.

At the top of the list: interior design. Participants preferred hospital rooms that had an updated, modern look, like an accent wall or wood-laminate floor. Second was hospitality-trained staff, and third was the technology available, like a high-quality flat-screen TV.

In health care, good design can be good business

It might be hard to see what this has to do with health care. “Of course, better health care always relies on the competency of the physicians and nurses,” says Suess-Raeisinafchi. But she notes that this study builds on a body of research showing that hotel-like rooms and hospitality-trained staff in hospitals can actually improve patient outcomes.

Design choices like large, sunny windows, views of nature or gardens, or even art of nature scenes have been shown to reduce patient stress and pain, according to a 2008 literature review by Roger Ulrich, professor of architecture at the Centre for Healthcare Architecture at Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden, and colleagues. Patients who had sunnier rooms reported less pain and took about 20 percent less pain medication than those in darker rooms.

And patients are willing to pay. Suess-Raeisinafchi and Mody also asked participants how much more they would be willing to pay for a room that had hotel-like amenities compared with a standard room. On average, the group was willing to pay 38 percent more out-of-pocket.

Costly private rooms save hospitals lots of money

Breaking the data down further, there was also a split between what “less healthy” and “more healthy” patients would pay. “Less healthy” survey participants, who had spent more time in the hospital and rated their own physical and mental health lower than a “more healthy” group, were willing to pay 44 percent more for a hotel-like room, compared to only 31 percent more for the “more healthy” group. Suess-Raeisinafchi adds that some hotel amenities, like a kitchenette with a fridge and coffeemaker, might benefit a patient’s family members if they visit for a long time.

“Most of us have had to visit hospitals before. We have had to stare at the cold, dreary walls and decor, bear the aroma of medical concoctions, and wait anxiously to hear from the doctor. These are stressful times indeed, for both patients and their families,” writes Mody in an email. “More and more hospitals are increasingly beginning to look and operate like hotels, not just in terms of their design but also the services they offer. Patient satisfaction scores have increased, as have patient and family perceptions of well-being.”

While hospital administrators do have to consider the cost of implementing some changes, like renovating rooms to have high-end hotel finishes, Suess-Raeisinafchi says that some would be easier to implement broadly. Changing the lighting in hospital rooms, painting the walls, or providing artwork would all be positive changes that would be cost-effective and improve the rooms’ interior design, patient satisfaction, and even patients’ health. “I definitely think there’s a tremendous opportunity for hospitality,” says Suess-Raeisinafchi.

“We would like to examine how a more hospitable environment can impact the physical, mental, psychological, and social well-being of patients and their families,” adds Mody. “After all, isn’t that the very purpose of a hospital—to provide recuperation and enhance well-being?”

The study abstract was part of a poster session at the Fourth Annual Regional Conference of the North East North American Federation of the International Council on Hotel, Restaurant, and Institutional Education, hosted by Boston University in April 2016.

Source: Caitlin Bird for Boston University