Swedish Hospital a leader in making food improvements

  • Sun May 2nd, 2010 10:52pm
  • News

By Sharon Salyer Herald Writer

The trend toward hotel-like food service in hospitals began about 13 years ago.

Swedish Medical Center in Seattle was in the vanguard of large hospitals nationally to adopt the new plan.

Since then, it’s spread to an estimated 25 percent to 30 percent of hospitals nationally.

Medications and treatments for hospitalized patients can affect their appetite, said Kris Schroeder, who directs Swedish’s “a la carte dining,” or room service program.

“Sometimes when you’re ill, you have a very short window of appetite,” she said. And some procedures, such as cancer treatments, can affect how food tastes or how patients respond its aroma.

For all these reasons, the shorter the time between when patients order their meals and when they get it, the higher the likelihood that they polish off their plates.

“In a traditional system, we would ask them to order today what they would eat tomorrow,” Schroeder said. “You can imagine the disconnect.”

Swedish prepares meals for 1,200 to 1,500 patients a day at its three Seattle campuses.

The goal is to have food delivered to patients within 45 minutes of placing their orders.

Staff who deliver the food are dressed in distinctive uniforms: white high-collared shirts and black slacks. “It makes the staff feel great not to be in that traditional garb,” she said. “It also identifies them from other folks who might be coming into the room, all the people who will poke and prod you.”

One study of the program found that since patients were getting food that they wanted, they were getting the calories they needed with less wasted food.

A study of cancer patients at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City found that food consumption increased with the room-service food program, Schroeder said.

At Swedish’s First Hill campus in Seattle, the kitchen never closes. So patients can call for room service in the middle of the night, although the menu is more limited.

“We can definitely get that ginger ale, a milkshake or whatever it is,” Schroeder said.

In fact, milkshakes are one of the most popular items ordered by Swedish patients, with fresh fruit plates and chicken noodle soup also high on the most-ordered list.

Swedish tries to buy many of its products from local producers when they’re in-season.

Despite replacing production-line food with a more cafe-like menu, food costs did not go up, Schroeder said.

“In the traditional system, we’ll send you what the physician ordered. You’ll pick at it.

“If you get to choose what you eat … there is decreased food waste,” she said

“People don’t order what they don’t eat, by and large.”

Sharon Salyer:425-339-3486, salyer@heraldnet.com.