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Hospital Linens: Balancing Cost and Patient Experience

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Let’s say you run housekeeping at a local hospital with several hundred beds. One consultant tells you to concentrate on keeping costs as low as possible so that laundry does not overwhelm the facility’s bottom line. Another advises you to think about the overall patient experience. She tells you that by investing in luxurious hotel-quality linens, you will make more money for the hospital by improving the patient experience. Which of the two consultants is correct?

Actually, neither and both. The fact of the matter is that it is no longer an either/or proposition. Modern healthcare is not what our parents and grandparents grew up with. Today, hospitals have to find that sweet spot between cost-containment and patient experience. That’s not necessarily easy, especially where hospital linens are concerned.

The New, Outcome Based System

It is ironic that just 10 years ago the hospital linen industry was not having discussions about cost vs. experience. But the Affordable Care Act (ACA) changed everything. Whether you like the law or not, the ACA introduced the idea of outcome-based medicine as a replacement for traditional fee-for-service care.

The ACA dictates that hospitals receive Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements based partly on patient experience. Some private insurance companies have started shifting to similar systems. That has hospitals scrambling to find ways to improve the patient experience. As the thinking goes, a patient lucky enough to have a good experience at the hospital is not likely to be readmitted for the same condition.

The merits of such thinking will be easier to debate 10 years from now – when we have more data. That debate aside though, hospitals are rethinking their linen choices in light of creating a more positive experience. They are attempting to learn from the hospitality sector as they do it. This leaves administrators and housekeeping directors with new choices in everything from bed linens to towels.

3 Things to Consider in the Modern Environment

A new focus on patient experience gives housekeeping directors reason to consider new linen choices similar to what the hospitality industry works with. Utah-based Alsco suggests there are three things that have to be considered before making any decisions:

  • Purchase Price – A cheaper linen may cost less money up front, but how will it fare in the long run? A $4.00 sheet will cost four cents per use if it lasts 100 cycles. A $3.00 sheet will cost less money up front, but if it only lasts 50 cycles its long-term cost will be six cents per use.
  • Linen Weight – Commercial laundries typically charge per pound. Right off the bat, this suggests there are ways to cut costs without necessarily harming the patient experience. Could the hospital get away with blankets that are 4 ounces lighter? At a quarter-of-a-pound per blanket, that is a lot of money saved on several hundred blankets sent in for cleaning.
  • Processing Costs – Hospitals that choose to handle laundry in-house have to account for the resources it takes to wash and dry them. Synthetic textiles tend to dry more quickly, thereby using less energy in the long run. But will that material offer the same feel and comfort as cotton?

Alsco explains that there is no black-and-white formula equally effective for every facility. That sweet spot between cost-cutting and patient experience is something that has to be dealt with on a case-by-case basis. One thing is for certain though: hospitals would do well to take more of a hospitality-based approach to their housekeeping services. It is possible to create a better patient experience without killing the budget.

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