Hospital VIP, customer service programs in bid for loyal patients

It's not just good care that will drive patients to hospitals, but customer loyalty programs and good service--or at least, that's what hospitals think who are getting in on the trend. As more hospitals aim to stay competitive, some are offering VIP (very important person) memberships that offer perks, such as free parking, wellness seminars and even organized social events, reported Kaiser Health News and The Washington Post.

For instance, Botsford Hospital in Farmington Hills, Mich., in 2010 began issuing free VIP cards, which entitle holders to free parking, a 10 percent discount on nonprescription drugs at the outpatient pharmacy and the gift shop, restaurant discounts, service establishments such as an oil-change garage and financial perks for health seminars. Even more, VIP members get a free one-year membership to a program for people 50 and older for organized outings, including a trip to a Canadian casino, the article noted.

"In this day and age, with so much competition, you need to make a connection with patients," Lynn Anderson, Botsford Hospital marketing and public relations manager, said in the article.

Similarly, The New York Times yesterday reported that the lines between hospital and hotel could be blurring. For example, the luxury wing of the New York-Presbyterian Hospital's Weill Cornell Medical Center offers $2,400 suites and other luxury amenities, such as chefs and butlers to cater to affluent patient needs.

As NPR pointed out, even hospital food isn't the butt of jokes anymore as more hospitals are going from "gruel to gourmet."

"We're seeing a growing demand from our employees, medical residents, students, and visitors for these local grass-fed meats produced without antibiotics and other additives," Tiffany Hightower, operations manager of the food and nutrition services department at George Washington University Hospital, said in a statement to NPR.

But will these amenities win over patients? "Customers will go to a provider and judge the experience based on things that they can understand: good food, ease of parking, attentiveness, nice sheets," Tony Paquin, chief executive of Paquin Healthcare, an Orlando consulting and technology firm, said in the KHN and Washington Post article.

For more information:
- read the KHN and Washington Post article
- read the NPR blog post

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