A Kaleidoscope of Change for Healthcare Foodservice

Uncertainty, cost containment, patient-centered care, retail cafés and wellness all make the list of top trends in today's ever-challenging, ever-dynamic world of healthcare foodservice.

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Few foodservice industry segments face as much uncertainty and as many daunting challenges as healthcare foodservice. Here FE&S takes a look at nine trends impacting this segment.

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1. Uncertainty about Affordable Healthcare

In September 2012, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) issued a report on the American healthcare system, "Best Care at Lower Cost: The Path to Continuously Learning Health Care in America." IOM found that America's healthcare system has become too complex and costly to continue business as usual. Inefficiencies and an overwhelming amount of data, as well as other economic and quality barriers, hinder progress in improving health and threaten the nation's economic stability and global competitiveness. Current waste diverts resources; the committee estimates $750 billion in unnecessary health spending in 2009 alone. However, the knowledge and tools exist to put the health system on the right course to achieve continuous improvement and better-quality care at lower cost.

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For healthcare foodservice, this uncertainty weighs on decisions to improve patient and retail foodservice. Therefore projects must show return on investment, whether in dollars or customer service.

2. Cost-Cutting and Cost-Containment

As hospitals and healthcare institutions find new ways to deliver quality care to a growing number of patients, they will continue to search for ways to cut and contain costs. Increasingly foodservice will be a target for reducing costs and enhancing revenues. Technomic's U.S. Foodservice Industry Forecast projects annual healthcare foodservice sales will reach $23.8 billion this year. The projected 4.5 percent increase will make healthcare among the fastest-growing foodservice industry segments. The expected increase in revenue is expected to come primarily through retail sales.

3. Patient-Centered Care and Rethinking Customer Service

Several hospital systems are joining together with the intent to provide more personal care in their facilities. Collectively, hospitals recognize the need to ensure patient satisfaction and to perform well on the Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS) surveys, the first national, standardized, publicly reported survey of patients' perspectives of hospital care. "We're always trying to improve on HCAHPS," says Dan Henroid, MS, RD, CP-FS, sustainability officer and director of Nutrition and Food Services at the University of San Francisco Medical Center. "Because there is nothing specific for foodservice, we try to do more to support what nurses need. For instance, maybe our carts make too much noise on patient floors late at night, so we fix the problem. For children, we're trying to provide specialized infant formulas that they will need at home and help them to transition upon discharge."

Foodservice operators are becoming more creative in their approaches to working with nurses and other hospital professionals to build environments that bring patient satisfaction. At Cancer Treatment Centers of America, a patient-centered ethos is the raison d'être. Patients receive care and attention from teams of medical and other health professionals.

4. Improving Room Service and Individualized Patient Care

Room service or no room service? Foodservice directors and consultants must grapple with this daunting question as they look to keep customer satisfaction high.

"More and more hospitals are changing to hotel-style room service," says Beth Yesford, senior director of support services, Providence Hospital, Washington, D.C., and president of the Association for Healthcare Foodservice. Speaking to consultants, manufacturers and operators attending FCSI's conference during The NAFEM Show this past February, Yesford said, "This type of service usually doesn't work with the traditional tray line assembly method. The method that does work well with room service is the pod system, which uses small teams in each pod. The pod system can be expensive to switch to, but many hospitals have been able to make the transition for as little as $20,000, by reusing most of their existing equipment. Pods are very efficient and produce more attractive meal presentations with less mistakes. Using pods improves patient satisfaction."

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