Medical tourism patient satisfaction with hospital food service

Medical tourism patient satisfaction with hospital food service is a mission critical consideration for every healthcare brand.

In auditing hospitals’ readiness for medical tourism on 5 continents, I always inquire about patient complaints and how they are addressed. Most hospital executives tell me that their most frequent complaint from international patients, expatriates, and medical tourism patients is about the meal service!  The complaints often fall into one of three primary groups:

  • the meal ingredients are not what they normally eat
  • the meals aren’t served at times they normally take their meals, and
  • the meals are served in in quantities to which they are unaccustomed.

I can relate!

In 2009, I toured 14 hospitals in Korea with two consulting colleagues. I touched something, someplace – and then touched my face or my eye. Mid-week, I woke up in tremendous pain in my right eye. Was it conjunctivities? No! it was an aggressive case of epidemic keratoconjunctivities (EKC). Highly contagious, very painful, and eventually, by the week’s end, I required inpatient hospitalization. Here are Mercury Advisory Group, we all maintain travel health policies on the odd chance that we become ill or injured while on a client mission. The insurance company authorized a private room to reduce the risk of infection to other patients, but I was not assigned to the hospitals VIP/International patient floor. As a result, my nurses did not speak English, no translator was provided for me, and no one from the international patient department of this JCI accredited hospital visited me from the Sunday of my admission until Wednesday. My internet connection did not work until Wednesday. The business card of the international patient department representative had a mobile phone on it and an email address, but I could not get the nurse to call Mr Cha, I could not email him, and the bedside phone would not call mobile phone numbers. But the worst of it? The food!

I was served food I was unaccustomed to. The seasonings they used did not agree with me, they served me variations on a theme of fish and rice three times a day. I was not given a choice. I was simply served what they expected me to eat. Korea is not the only place where this happens.

In 2012, I did a 10-hospital medical tourism cluster audit in Mexico. This cluster was situated close to one of the largest US and Canadian expatriate communities in the country. I asked the same question. Each executive sheepishly admitted that the food service was the chief complaint received. People complained that they expected to be served breakfast fare to which they were accustomed at the usual time for breakfast: around 8am. The American and Canadian breakfast traditionally consists of eggs, bacon, toast or a bread of some sort, cereal, fruit, etc. They expected lunch at noon. Instead, it arrived at 2pm. It was a huge meal, similar to what Americans and Canadians eat for their evening meal. Most patients felt that the food was too much of the wrong kind of food – they were used to a soup and sandwich combination, a salad, or a combination of that sort. Then, dinner arrived at 1900 instead of 1700, and was very light, consisting of the foods they expected to eat at lunch. Unfortunately, they left most of the big meal on the tray which went to the scullery, and when the evening meal arrived, they felt they were underfed, too late in the day.

The answer to these complaints is not to tell the patient “Well, this order of meal service, menu and timing is the way we eat here.” or “This is how you should eat.” Instead, cultural accommodation dictates that if you want to attract market share from outside your region, you may have to have alternative arrangements in place to accommodate the patients’ preferences. Otherwise all the work you’ve done on branding, and attempting to create brand ambassadors, deliver high-quality, safe and affordable healthcare, is reduced to a social media grade of two stars and a neutral or negative social media comment or rating. When you ask for a patient testimonial, the patient that has undergone extensive complex service will focus on the meal dissatisfaction part of the experience, if they bother to respond at all.

What has your hospital done to improve the medical tourism patient satisfaction experience?

One Comment

  1. Excellent article. Both stories illustrate a point that I have been stressing for the past 20+ years.– cultural competency training must be hospital-wide and not limited to medical staff. Food (and the times and amounts) served to patients is one aspect of culturally appropriate patient care. EVERYONE who has any contact with patients, directly or indirectly needs training regarding the patients’ likely needs and expectations. This is true for the people who plan and serve meals to those who change the bed linens!
    JCI only certifies a hospital’s ability to provide service excellence to patients of that country, they do not, as JC does, examine cultural competency. (See JC’s “Road map for Hospitals)

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