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Dining In
Personal choice program improves patient experience.


Bill Davis perks up as Sherri Robinson enters his room on Weinberg 4D, a laptop slung over her shoulder. As part of Hopkins’ new “personal choice dining” team, the clinical nutrition assistant brings the kind of questions this recovering surgery patient likes to hear.

“Would you care for the tuna salad or the macaroni and beef?” she asks, ready to type in his lunch order and speed it off to the kitchen.

Davis defers to his wife of 49 years, who’s more than happy to take over. Since the couple arrived for Bill’s pancreatic surgery two weeks ago, Alice Davis has weathered anxious moments about her husband’s health as well as a strange new hospital environment. Making meal decisions, on the other hand, is home turf: She knows Bill’s palate better than anyone.

“We’ll try the tuna and the whipped potatoes, the peaches and pears, the skim milk and hot tea,” she decides, and then asks Robinson about her day. The Davises have become fond of the young woman who, at 25, is not much older than their grandchildren back home in Pennsylvania.

“Sherri tries very hard, she really goes out of her way,” Bill Davis says.

This scene is part of a pilot effort to personalize hospital meals by giving patients, and their families, broader food choices as well as more personal attention. Instead of circling lunch choices on a paper menu the night before, for instance, patients decide on meals two hours before they are served. Twelve-hour work shifts allow clinical nutrition assistants to build relationships with patients by visiting them nine times each day. Robinson retrieves computer lists of foods approved for those patients who are able to eat, reads them their options, answers questions, serves the meals and removes the trays.

Hospitality manager Sheryl Asch, another member of the personal choice dining team, checks on the patients to make sure their food is hot enough, cold enough and flavored correctly.

“We want the patients to experience the hospitality industry at its finest, which means they have to have more personalized service,” says Leo Dorsey, director of nutritional services.

Currently offered to patients on eight units, this program was developed by a division of Sodexho, the company that provides the hospital’s food service. Patients choose from six entrees, both hot and cold, rather than the usual two. A typical dinner contains main courses such as barbecued chicken, cheeseburgers, pizza, or a fruit and cottage cheese plate. Meals are served on black trays that make the food look more appealing.

Dorsey wants to expand personal choice dining to all of the hospital’s units. He says that since the program began several months ago, food satisfaction scores have improved on Press Ganey surveys. The food service also offers an “At Your Request” room service menu in pediatric oncology and family-style dining for psychiatric patients being treated in Meyer.

According to Asch, personal choice dining patients appreciate the effort to make their meals more pleasurable.

“A lot of people tell me that although they didn’t have an appetite, they ended up eating a lot,” she says. “They also say they’ve never had so many [food service] people who care about them.”

Building such connections also benefits employees like Robinson. The East
Baltimore resident says one patient’s family recently surprised her with a birthday card when she arrived to pick up a breakfast tray.

“That really touched my heart,” she says. “People seem really happy to see me and to acknowledge me to their friends.”

—Linell Smith



Johns Hopkins Medicine

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