Hospitality and Service

Have you ever thought about the fact that the words “hospital” and “hospitality” are almost the same?

Maybe it's not a coincidence. “Hospitality” has its roots in the Latin word “hospes,” which means both “host” and “guests,” and also “hospitalitem,” which means “friendliness to guests.” Across time, the concept of hospitality has come to mean a welcoming environment, exuding warmth and caring. The hospitality industry, which we associate with hotels, restaurants, resorts, cruises, theme parks and the like, has its foundation in this concept.

But what about hospitals? What about our hospitals? Should it not follow that at UF Health, our mantra of Quality as Job 1 includes not only a focus on medical processes and patient outcome measures, but also, by analogy, the concept of a welcoming environment, with warmth and caring, for people who are ill and their families?

As I have documented in this newsletter on multiple occasions, we have indeed made great strides in medical processes, and in a variety of patient safety and quality measures. This reflects the tremendous efforts of faculty and staff, for which our patients and families are greatly appreciative. The one set of quality measures that hasn’t improved as much as we’d like, however, relates to the assessment of satisfaction by our patients with their overall experience. When data on specific aspects of our patients’ experience are analyzed, it is clear that we could do better in many dimensions of hospitality.

How can we improve the extent to which we provide a welcoming, warm and caring environment? The hospitality industry literature is actually quite rich in providing insight about this question. Much of the insight lies in the distinction between "hospitality" and "service." For example, the well-known restaurateur, Danny Meyer (Union Square Hospitality Group), puts it this way: “Service is the technical delivery of a product — or how well you do your job. Hospitality is how the delivery of that product makes its recipients feel — or who you are while you do your job.” He goes on to summarize the distinction from another angle: “Service is a monologue and hospitality is a dialogue.”

How does this idea apply to our various roles at UF Health? One interpretation is that when we provide a service to our patients (or for that matter, when we provide educational services to our students, residents and fellows, or research services to our colleagues in science), there are two dimensions to the quality of the recipient’s experience; one dimension is the expertise with which we carry out the task (e.g., medical procedure, educational moment, research assay), while the other is the perception of “welcome, warmth and caring.” The first part can indeed be unidirectional, while the latter requires interpersonal engagement.

Listen to the perspective of Deniz Omurgonulsen, vice president of Leading Hotels of the World: “Hospitality is a sincere and selfless relationship, the connection between a host and a guest. Service is the way the host builds and demonstrates that connection.”

The 2010 UF Health Strategic Plan was built on the fundamental idea that if we get quality right, everything else will follow. The tremendous progress we have made in many quality dimensions — whether it be in clinical patient outcomes, publications and grant support, or educational success as measured by the placement of our graduates — have indeed translated into increasing levels of success in all of our missions. As noted above, however, in one important quality dimension — patient satisfaction — we have not made similar strides. (We do not have similar measures for student and researcher satisfaction, but the concept of service and hospitality should remain the same across all mission areas.)

To improve the patient experience, our annual quality retreat this past July focused on hospitality and service. We had a record attendance of 350 faculty and hospital staff, who came together to brainstorm about actions that could be taken to improve hospitality and service. A number of important suggestions sprang forward from this retreat. These can be summarized as follows:

  • Establish a UF Health model of hospitality and service that is  measurable and incorporated into all performance expectations
  • Develop education and communication plans on UF Health hospitality and service standards
  • Develop a strategy to utilize patient and family advisers to integrate the voice of the patient into strategic initiatives across UF Health 

Over the next several weeks, with the benefit of your participation, we will be implementing these ideas by convening an interdisciplinary UF Health Hospitality Steering Committee that will develop expectations and standards for service and hospitality. Once the standards are established, a larger team will assemble to develop the education and communication plan. As that process unfolds, we’ll have much more to share about specific training that will allow us to improve our individual service and organizational hospitality.

Perhaps the best summary of the distinction between hospitality and service comes from a New York City taxi driver: “Hospitality:  a clean cab, warm in winter and cool in summer. Service: taking the passenger to the right place, quickly and safely.”

To conclude, what happens at the intersection of hospitality and service, as shown in the hatched section below?

The answer is ...

Forward Together,

David S. Guzick, M.D., Ph.D.
Senior Vice President, Health Affairs
President, UF Health