The emergence of the hospital concierge

Search Google for the term "hospital concierge service" and you'll be flooded with links to such programs. Over the past couple of years, a growing number of hospitals have been running with the concept, borrowed from the hotel industry, under which consumers get a helping hand with the logistics of their visit.

Take USC University Hospital's concierge desk, which helps patients arrange hotels or long-term housing, transportation to and from airports, car rentals, business services, personal care services like spa and hairdressing appointments and even help with tourism and entertainment.

Particularly for facilities that get a lot of out-of-town visitors, having at least a small concierge staff makes a great deal of sense. After all, they share many of a hotel's logistical problems--large facility, complex services, often-disoriented visitors away from home--and increasingly, are focused on giving patients a hotel-style feeling of comfort as well. What's more, if hospitals don't want to train and staff this function, they can hire outsiders like the Corporate Health Group to plan and implement a concierge program.

Right now, concierge desks focused entirely on hotel-like supports. As a next step, what if concierge desks also included a skilled staff member capable of helping patients understand insurance issues? Right now, most patients interact only with a bored, low-skilled registration desk worker with little incentive to offer warm fuzzies to patients or spend a lot of time on education. In the future, as more patients cope with high-deductible plans, having a chance to discuss fees and benefits with a trained, sympathetic contact could to much to help patients feel in control.

Ultimately, there's little doubt that hospitals benefit when patients are comfortable and calm--so why not be creative with your concierge desk? At the moment, hospitals may think of this function as a nice add-on, but in the future, I'd argue, they should grow to more of an information hub complete with Internet stations, clinical literature, toys for kids and more. The key is to put yourself in the patient's shoes. Next time you're overwhelmed by your own contacts with the health system, you may want to take a few notes. - Anne