Posted on Wed, Oct. 30, 2002
Patients willing to pay find amenities abound. Care remains the same.
By Marian Uhlman
Inquirer Staff Writer
Views of the city skyline...
Elegant decor in warm and sophisticated tones...
Fine linens and terry cloth robes...
High tea served every afternoon.
Sounds like an ad for a five-star hotel, right?
Actually, it is an enticing promo for a new unit, the Pavilion, at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston.
The Pavilion "is for people who wish to pay for additional amenities," Christine Collins, director of patient access services, said this week at a Philadelphia conference on premier hospital services.
The cost? Up to $800 a day on top of regular hospital charges.
Hospitals here and across the country are offering upscale creature comforts in their effort to tap into profitable niches and boost the bottom line. Efforts include courting overseas patients, cooking customized meals, and offering one-stop shopping for cancer care. Some hospitals have set up senior programs whose members are offered such perks as travel opportunities, complimentary parking, and help with insurance forms.
"Hospitals are under tremendous economic pressure and are looking for creative ways of improving their economic margins," said David Nash, associate dean for health policy at Jefferson Medical College of Thomas Jefferson University and the conference's keynote speaker.
The University of Pennsylvania Medical Center added 16 VIP suites about five years ago, enhancing the physical amenities it long had for such patients. The suites cost about $800 extra a day.
At Brigham and Women's in Boston, spending an extra $800 a day buys the atmosphere of an elegant hotel, Collins said, but it doesn't buy better medical treatment than that given to other patients at the hospital.
What's different is the hospital experience. It's like driving a Mercedes instead of a Volkswagen, Collins said. Both will get you where you're going, but the Mercedes offers a more luxurious journey.
The goal of premier services is to "improve patient satisfaction," said Pat Hogan, a vice president at Mary Ann Liebert Inc., which publishes the Premier Hospital Services Report and organized the two-day Philadelphia conference.
Niche services are coming of age - again, said Dan Grauman, a health-care consultant in Bala Cynwyd. In the 1980s and early '90s, hospitals carved out specialty areas, he said, but many put that strategy aside as they tried to build market-share through buying physician practices.
"We are seeing the resumption of the more traditional product development and marketing," he said. "It was on a shelf for a few years. Now it is in the forefront."
A decade ago, experts were predicting that patients would move out of hospital settings. Instead, because of advances in technology and an aging population, "we are seeing more and more of demand for hospital beds," said Leslie C. Davis, senior vice president of marketing and network development at the University of Pennsylvania Health System. "So the focus has resurfaced on the hospital side again."
At Brigham and Women's, the 14 Pavilion rooms have generated about $1 million in revenue in the first year, Collins said. They could be valuable in other ways, too - attracting patients and donors, she said.
And not everyone who books a room in the Pavilion is rich or famous. Collins said a young woman with breast cancer had her stay paid for by her husband and her father.
At Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, about 85 percent of the people who spend up to $1,250 extra for an obstetrical suite are not high-profile people, said Joan August, director of women's health.
The private two- or three-room suites include a stereo/CD player, TV and VCR, Internet access, hair dryer, hotel-style robe, complimentary toiletries, and a basket of fresh fruit and muffins.
The hospital will cater a "special dining experience for two" and provide a personal assistant to help the mother feel comfortable with the daily care of the newborn. The soft pastel suites have sofas for overnight guests.
As at Brigham and Women's, the VIPs "don't get any different level of care" than anyone else, August said.
At the University of Pennsylvania Medical Center, where 16 VIP suites were added, "I don't think we developed these because we were looking for business or needed more business," Davis said. Rather, she said, it filled a need to give extra privacy and space to high-profile people such as members of Congress, athletes and artists. The hospital said that here, as in the other cities, extra money did not buy extra medical care.
On busy days, when a VIP suite is empty, regular patients can enjoy the faux hardwood floors, hotel-style furniture and upscale bathrooms at no extra charge.
"Other hospitals in Philadelphia have similar amenities," Davis said. "To my knowledge, there is not anyone in the area with a private chef."
One of the hottest areas for niche marketing has been bringing international patients for care in U.S. hospitals.
Nearly four years ago, Philadelphia started a consortium to market hospitals in the region. The group includes Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, Crozer-Keystone Health System, Fox Chase Cancer Center, Magee Rehabilitation Hospital, MossRehab, Pennsylvania Hospital, Temple University Hospital, Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, and the University of Pennsylvania Medical Center.
"We're so far advanced from the organization that started," said Leonard Karp, executive vice president of Philadelphia International Medicine.
From January to Sept. 30, the group brought nearly 3,000 patients to Philadelphia, largely from Latin America and the Middle East. Like most international programs, the Philadelphia project saw patient numbers drop by about 30 percent in the months after the Sept. 11 attacks.
Karp said the consortium continued to diversify both by recruiting patients from other parts of the world and by setting up educational events such as seminars and training here and abroad.