Picking up the phone to order a nutritious, freshly prepared meal that's delivered by an attendant wearing a tuxedo might seem more common at a four-or five-star hotel than a cancer center. But it's a luxury our patients have enjoyed for more than 15 years.
The days of traditional hospital food on pre-prepared trays brought to all patient rooms at the same time are long gone, says Mohammad Tekrouri, associate director of Room Service. Room Service programs like ours that provide efficient, high quality, cooked-to-order culinary options have become essential to ensuring a better patient experience.
"Patients prefer to be in control of their dining experience because there are times when they're resting, the medical staff is in the room, or they simply don't feel like eating," Tekrouri says. "Our service offers them the flexibility to order food when they feel like it at multiple times throughout the day."
A personalized touch
When cancer patients are admitted, they receive a brief orientation from our room service staff. They're given menus and told how to place their orders. Room Service is included in each patient's stay and is available 365 days a year, from 6:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Family members also can order meals for a fee.
"Patients and family members eating together can encourage the patient to eat and offers convenience for those who can't leave their loved one even for a minute," Tekrouri says.
Much like the personalized cancer treatment our patients receive, our culinary and clinical nutrition teams design restaurant-style menus that are personalized to meet each cancer patient's dietary guidelines. So if patients are on a soft, carbohydrate-controlled or full-liquid diet, the system only allows them to order items from those specific menus. Our cancer patients also enjoy the option of choosing half portions, because often they're still building up their appetites due to their treatments.
"Once patients have the menu that complies with their diet, the rest is just like in a hotel," Tekrouri says. "Our call center takes the patient's order, a printout is created, and the meal is delivered within 45 minutes."
A homemade recipe
MD Anderson employs more than 170 Room Service employees, who prepare about 1,700 meals each day. Executive chef Corey Dalton says the culinary team tries, as much as possible, to cook everything "made to order" to ensure freshness. A nutritional analysis is conducted on each dish on the menu.
"There are different factors we consider for cancer patients," Dalton says. "We draw our ingredients from the American Institute for Cancer Research and incorporate those into our menus. We also get creative and offer seasonal and trendy items, like green smoothies. They're extremely popular and good for you, too."
The Room Service team understands that food temperature is important, as with any meal. Once a food tray is prepared, it's placed in a transport cart that maintains its proper temperature. The cart then makes its way to the appropriate nutrition center.
A center is located on each floor, and this is where the wait staff prepares last-minute items like a slice of toast or a cup of coffee and checks the accuracy of the order one last time. Once the wait staff arrives at a patient's room, he or she addresses the patient by name and verifies the patient's medical record number.
"It's definitely a process that occurs before the food gets on the plate and makes it to the patient's room," Dalton adds. "It's a total team collaboration."
As our Room Service continues to grow more popular, Tekrouri says patient satisfaction has steadily increased, and positive comment cards from patients and family members keep stacking up.
"When you look at our patient satisfaction scores, we outscore the competition on almost every question by an average of eight to 10 points," Tekrouri says. "We're rated on things such as our food quality, temperature and the courtesy of our staff, who are committed to providing an excellent dining experience while tempting our cancer patients' appetites."
At most places, this might be considered a luxury. But at MD Anderson, it's just another example of our dedicated staff being "at your service."
A longer version of this article originally appeared in Messenger, MD Anderson's bimonthly employee publication.