The provision of healthy meals in hospitals and other care establishments is an essential component in the delivery of effective healthcare. The recommended balance of vitamins, minerals and fibre and the control of sugar and saturated fat consumption are part of the Government’s guidance on eating well.
However, many hospitals are still struggling to meet the guidance on meal provision as they try to balance cost with the practicalities of feeding hundreds of patients with widely varying dietary requirements. Elderly patients, for example, tend to be undernourished, whereas obesity is the more prevalent problem among the middle-aged.
How can hospitals raise nutritional standards and meet the individual dietary needs of their patients within budgets that are already overstretched?
Improving efficiency in hospital meal ordering
In recent years, hospitals that have introduced Electronic Meal Ordering have seen marked improvements, both in patient satisfaction and operational efficiency. Even if the menu remained the same, the operational benefits of Electronic Meal Ordering would save health services millions of pounds each year.
The traditional process involves the distribution of paper menus, which patients mark with their meal choice. These then have to be collected, taken to the catering office and processed. Because of the time involved, patients are usually required to order their meals a day in advance. If a patient is discharged in the meantime, the meal goes to waste. Of the £400million spent on meal provision in hospitals each year, around £25m goes to waste*.
By contrast, Electronic Meal Ordering requires no paper forms to be printed, no extra staff to distribute and collect them, no manual processing. For a typical hospital of 500 beds, the savings on processing alone amount to an estimated £40,000 per year*.
The speed and accuracy of orders also cuts down on food waste. Menus can be translated and presented with pictures, so that all patients understand exactly what they’re being offered. The reduction in processing time means that meals can be delivered much faster (within two hours as opposed to the 15 hours typical of paper-based meal ordering). For that same 500 bed hospital, these two factors can save £57,000 per year* in food waste.
Improving health by raising nutritional standards
These savings cumulate close to £100,000 per year for the average hospital to invest in a better standard of nutrition, wider choice of menu, individual dietary requirements and more flexibility for timings of patients’ meal delivery. These components combined ensure a higher standard and quality of food in hospitals and care establishments
As a higher standard of nutrition is delivered, further benefits are realised. Studies have shown that an increase in food consumption among elderly patients is linked to a reduction in their length of stay in hospital. Patients recover sooner, more beds become available and more money is saved. In a typical 500 bed hospital a 5% reduction in length of stay achieved by Electronic Meal Ordering equates to £50,000 a year* cost saving.
Electronic Meal Ordering also enables large amounts of patient data to be collected, giving caterers valuable insights into what meals are most popular, seasonal preferences etc, which in turns improves their ability to provide nutritious choices that patients actually want to eat. It also enables care providers to track dietary behaviours and identify patterns that could facilitate a more tailored care service.
A virtuous circle of nutritional excellence
Through better service, increased operational efficiency and reduced waste, the average hospital stands to save £147,000 a year. As money is saved and reinvested in a higher standard of meal provision, the health benefits to patients continue to increase, fewer meals are wasted and more money is saved.
By introducing the Medix Nutrio Electronic Meal Ordering solution, hospitals are creating a virtuous circle that is self-maintaining and can release money for other needs besides catering, as well as qualifying them for funding from sources like the Commissioning for Quality and Innovation (CQUIN) framework. The ultimate benefit is better healthcare for everyone.
*Source: Deloitte: The Economic Benefits of Electronic Meal Ordering