Hospitality Through Various Hospital Eyes

7 March, 2018
  • 8 min read
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Hospitality becomes increasingly important in sectors not belonging to the traditional hospitality areas such as the hotel and tourism industry. In his book ‘If Disney ran your hospital’ Lee (2004) asserts that courtesy, here as a metaphor for hospitality, is more vital than efficiency in hospitals. With this, he caused a landslide in patient-centricity discussions, which traditionally focussed on the medical side of the healthcare services.

Since then we have seen an increase in hospitals running their own hospitality program in order to improve their patient journeys hence patient satisfaction. However, the managers responsible for these hospitality programs complain about the lack of interest in and cooperation for these programs among certain groups of employees in the hospitals. 

One of the possible reasons for this omission could be a varying opinion of what hospitality is, and perhaps even more important, who should act ‘hospitable’. Probably everyone with an Hotelschool The Hague background would answer the latter question similarly. Indisputably in the hotel industry, it is clear who ‘the guest’ is. All staff members treat their guests in the same hospitable way whatever his or her function may be. The connotation of ‘the patient’ in hospitals is, however, blurred: some hospital staff members look at patients holistically as human beings with various needs, anxieties, and goals; others focus on the bodily part of the patient and see the sick part of the patient as a pars pro toto for the patient. Assumingly these differing views of patients lead to varying ways of treating them. We suppose that these diverging perspectives exist also about the connotation of hospitality and who should be hospitable.

Therefore, we investigated the way the various hospital ‘tribes’ (facility staff, nurses, and doctors) perceive ‘hospitality’. The first findings are in line with our assumptions: all three tribes have a different connotation of hospitality and their focus is on different hospitality aspects. Moreover, doctors clearly find hospitality an important aspect of their treatment but not the most important. Hence, facility staff grade hospitality all crucial for their service to patients. Interestingly, all tribes agree that everyone has to act hospitably to the patients. Another interesting outcome is the difference between the way doctors in academic hospitals look at hospitality and doctors in general hospitals do: a first impression tells us to avoid academic hospitals if one wants to be treated in a hospitable way, doctors in academic hospitals are the less interested in hospitable behaviour.

The research was held in seven hospitals among 60 persons per hospital. Of each ‘tribe’ 20 persons were interviewed. The interviews were semi-structured and short. Two of the students interviewed the doctors and nurses during lunch. “We just looked at when they almost finished their lunch and then asked them to answer our questions. We had to use all-out charm and social skills, to obtain answers. It was quite tough but we managed”, two of them said. The third commented: “If the patients are being treated as I was, then it is no good to be a patient over there”. And even worse she remarked that one of the persons working in one of the hospitals stated that he preferred to die than to be treated by some of the doctors. Evidently, her research field were the two academic hospitals participating in the research.

Gaining access, a critical factor in qualitative research is particularly difficult in a hospital environment. Obviously, this has amongst others to do with privacy and sensitivity, also factors complicating research in hospitals. However, in order to investigate the integral patient journey, improve hospitality by means of interventions, and to measure the impact of the improvements, we have to know the general feelings and ideas about hospitality among various actors. And although the findings in this research are only indicative, it may serve as a starting point for further and more in-depth research. The full results will be published when all individual research projects are finished.


Author: Angelique Lombarts
Professor of Hospitality, Happiness and Care
Hotelschool The Hague Research Centre

About the author

Angelique Lombarts

Dr Angelique Lombarts is appointed Professor of Hospitality, Happiness and Care. Her research at Hotelschool The Hague will be focused on the current social development from experience economy to a new economy, where the importance of relationships and added value are essential. The organisations Dr Lombarts cooperates with, are mainly non-profit and public organisations that need a mind shift to become successful (again). The research will focus primarily on organisations in the healthcare sector.

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