When it comes to a bite to eat, there are two settings that get a particularly bad rap – 35,000 feet in the air and the hospital bed.

Mater Hospital Brisbane, however, is working to change hospital food’s reputation – at the same time as boosting patient nutrition and improving efficiency – with its rollout of a hotel-style room service model that enables patients to order food to be freshly prepared and delivered to their room within 45 minutes.

Creating better quality care for patients was the main driver behind this innovation, but it’s helped reduce food wastage and provided other positives as well.

The decision to ditch the traditional food service model has delivered healthy outcomes for the group – both for patients and the bottom line.

Winning the war on waste

Mater’s chief operating officer Sean Hubbard says benefits include significant improvement in customer satisfaction levels, reduction in food wastage (both in production and on the plate) and improved patient nutrition.

“There’s typically significant waste in traditional hospital food service models,” Hubbard says. “Patients’ orders are taken well in advance of meal times, and large amounts of food are prepared in a bulk cooking model to be delivered at set meal times.”

“With the room service or ‘cook on demand’ model, food is only produced when ordered so the wastage associated with long lead time forecasting models is reduced, and plate waste – which averages between 30 and 50 per cent – is significantly reduced. Patients order what and when they feel like eating, so they eat almost all the ordered food.

“Our plate waste has reduced to 17 per cent – that contributes to significant savings. We’ve had an initial annual 26 per cent reduction in food costs.”

As those results don’t account for food cost inflation, the cost savings are actually likely to be even higher.

“There’s improved nutritional intake by patients which in turn assists recovery,” Hubbard continues. “Malnourished patients have a longer hospital stay, greater risk of complications and poorer in-hospital clinical outcomes, which can also significantly add to costs.”

Improvement through innovation

The Mater’s room service model was first rolled out at Mater Private Hospital Brisbane in 2013, and from 2015 other facilities within the group started implementing it. In April, Mater’s entire South Brisbane campus switched over to the new system and it’s now delivering more than 2,000 meals a day to patients. Underpinned with an on-site call centre, it enables patients to order from a personalised menu of clinically suitable options that are then freshly made and delivered to their rooms within 45 minutes.

Hubbard says the plan was driven by a desire to create a better service for patients through a strong collaboration between its Nutrition and Dietetics and Food Services operations.

“Like many hospitals in Australia, we had a very traditional manual model in place whereby patients made menu choices well in advance of mealtimes, often with little interaction with staff, and were then served at set times often not suited to them,” Hubbard says.

“The result was many late and extra meal deliveries. Patients often didn’t get their meal choice and there was significant waste. Patient satisfaction with food was poor and their nutritional intake was suboptimal.

“By focusing on all these key drivers – consumer engagement and satisfaction plus improved clinical and organisational outcomes – the room service model was implemented.”

Implementation challenges

Hubbard says familiarising staff with the new model was one of the biggest challenges, for both food service staff preparing the food and clinical staff treating the patients.

“We were the first in Australia to implement room service, so none of the staff had worked with this model before,” he explains. “It’s very patient-centric – the patient decides when they’ll eat. The hospital schedule needs to account for this and shift from being focused solely on the treating clinician’s schedule to taking into account the patient’s preferences.”

The move also required a significant shift in the use of technology at the hospital. “We implemented a sophisticated electronic menu management system that allows us to track patients’ nutritional intake and make quick clinical decisions in collaboration with the patient based on this real-time information,” Hubbard says.

“It allows us to set menu item compliance against multiple (often complex) diets, take personalised orders, track each meal delivery and ensure a patient’s nutritional requirements are met. It’s greatly enhanced the safety and clinical monitoring around our patients’ food intake.”

The future is customer-centric

The Mater’s new food service strategy reflects the changing landscape of healthcare internationally with a trend towards more personalised care, according to Hubbard.

“We’re certainly seeing greater expectation with regard to consumer engagement and personalised service, and room service has resulted in significantly greater customer satisfaction,” he says.

“Meal-order staff talk to patients about their likes and dislikes, requirements, and any goals set for them in their personalised meal plan. It really allows us to engage with patients, and deliver better quality service.”

New strategies for keeping seniors out of hospital

Continued growth in the ageing population is expected to generate business for healthcare providers. Strategic Professor Susan Gordon, South Australian Chair of Restorative Care at Flinders University, explains the benefits of differentiating your services to meet older people’s evolving needs.

Healthy mind, healthy life: Why ‘brain fitness’ makes sense for medical professionals

Making cognitive health a personal top priority makes sense for healthcare professionals, according to Australia’s up and coming ‘brain fitness’ spokesperson, Dr Jenny Brockis.

Appetite-for-life passion drives Maggie Beer in aged-care quest

Australian food icon Maggie Beer is on a mission to ensure our elders living in aged care homes enjoy the benefits of beautiful, fresh, wholesome food served with care – and she’s doing it by harnessing the passion of those already in the industry leading the way.

Designing hospitals for optimal health

Can the design of a hospital help patients heal better? Brisbane architects explain the thinking behind their award-winning re-development.

Let's talk

We’re ready to help

Have us call you
Looking for a specialist?
Tell us about your experience