It’s hard to believe in this era of hyper foodie-ism—much of it health-focused—that the quality of hospital meals continues to be on par with prison food. A solution to the problem is gathering momentum, however. Modern Farmer calls it “farm to hospital bed” and describes a trend in which a dozen hospitals in the U.S. are maintaining on site farms so that they can serve from scratch meals for their patients. At Watertown Regional Medical Center in Wisconsin, for example, 60 acres of farmland allows for foods like house-made pepperoni or pumpkin cranberry muffins to be sourced and prepared on site for all patients. No heat and serve here: All of the meals are cooked fresh to order with locally sourced ingredients—even down to the pigs, poultry, and cows they butcher. Amazingly, the costs don’t seem like they’re passed onto the patient, but are borne out of hospital budgets.
What do you remember about the last time you were in the hospital? Was the food bad, or did it exceed your expectations? Did your room have a view of nature, or of the rooftop condenser unit on a neighboring building? When you left the hospital, did you feel refreshed and empowered, or just discharged?
The fact that most hospitals still use the term "discharge" for departing patients—which is also defined as the release of a burden—says a lot about the current state of our healthcare system. Even the use of the words "healthcare system" contains an implicit message to patients: you are a part, not the whole. When you reflect on a Friday night outing at the movies, do you turn to your friend and say, “Boy, did I have a great experience in that theater system, right up until they discharged me.” No, of course not. The reason for this isn’t because the system doesn’t exist, but rather that it has been designed to disappear within the experience, so that people forget they are even immersed in an engineered process. The automotive, entertainment, food and beverage, and retail industries work tirelessly to craft user-centric experiences, so why does an industry with so much invested in it (17.9 percent of the U.S.’s total GDP), and so much advanced technology (see doctor robots) have so much trouble with customer relations?
The answer is complicated. In all fairness, healthcare providers are at somewhat of a disadvantage. None of the aforementioned industries have to cater to a user group that is simultaneously going through physical discomfort and life-altering emotional turmoil. Throw in managing family interpersonal relations, an ambiguous payment process, and a constantly changing regulatory landscape, and you have a recipe for disaster. To further complicate matters, your services are so vital to the community that you can never shut down to retool anything, so you must build on top of existing inadequacies with Band-Aid, quick fix solutions. Under this collective pressure, it is no surprise that healthcare has had trouble evolving to match the increasing demands of a more connected and informed 21st Century consumer.