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Hospitals are looking more like luxury hotels. Here’s why.

For many patients, a visit to the hospital is beginning to look a lot like a stay in a luxury hotel.

So say a trio of researchers from USC’s Center for Health Policy and Economics and the Rand Corp. in Santa Monica. Writing this week in the New England Journal of Medicine, they lay out the myriad ways – and reasons why – hospitals have come to resemble five-star resorts in the last decade or so.

Case in point: The Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, which opened in 2008. In addition to offering many private rooms, the hospital’s “Better Way to Get Better” ad campaign highlighted the availability of room-service meals, massage therapists, stunning views and “a host of other unexpected amenities.” It may seem silly – even tacky – but it clearly seems to have worked. According to the Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems, the proportion of patients who said they would recommend UCLA rose from 71% to 85% after the new hospital opened, the researchers said.

Hospitals all over the country have been using amenities to lure patients – and the healthcare dollars spent by their insurers. Facilities have a lot to gain by treating a high volume of patients, and if it takes hotel-like luxuries to attract them, so be it.

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For at least some patients, amenities are actually more important than quality of medical care. The researchers looked at data on Los Angeles-area Medicare patients who needed hospital treatment for pneumonia between 2000 and 2004. Many of them chose not to go to the hospital closest to them, but the ones they did pick weren’t necessarily the ones with the best “risk-adjusted rates of death,” they wrote. Something else, presumably including amenities, was the draw.

The researchers also cited a recent survey that found patients believe that a hospital’s “nonclinical experience” matters twice as much as its “clinical reputation.” How could this be? The researchers have one theory: Traditional measures of clinical quality are hard for lay people to understand. “Consumers may be making choices on the basis of amenities because they are easier to understand,” they wrote.

RELATED: As a marker for hospital quality, cost alone is unreliable, new study suggests


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