Room service on menu at University Hospitals

By Russell Rian

Omelets with a choice of fillings. Fish — grilled, baked or blackened. Chicken Parmesan with marinara sauce or bow tie pasta with Alfredo sauce. Perhaps a dinner salad and a chocolate cherry mini-Bundt cake with it? And it’ll be delivered fresh to your room.

Those are not the traditional meals you think of when you’re in the hospital, but room service — at no additional charge – is now on the menu at UT Southwestern University Hospitals. Welcome to At Your Request Room Service Dining.

Forget waiting for a warmed-over tray featuring gelatin while you’re in a hospital bed. Patients now can order anything from a freshly grilled burger to curried chicken breast from the revamped menus at both University Hospital locations, then have it delivered on their schedule with just a phone call.

“I like it,” said Ralph Thornton, an orthopaedic patient staying several days at University Hospital. “It is so much better than the old way of doing it. I’ve been building my own sandwiches, such as turkey and cheese on rye with mustard and lettuce. There’s a whole lot of ways to put things together so you don’t have to repeat a meal.”

By dialing 54000 from their room phone, patients are put in touch with one of several operators who will take the order and who can also assist them in finding the proper balance of freshly made, tasty items even if their doctor has placed them on a specialty diet – low fat, low carb, low salt, no sugar or even low potassium and phosphorus.

“Patients tend not to have a lot of ability to choose when they come into the hospital,” explained Roger Hanson, director of nutrition, who oversees the new operation.

“But one choice that remains for them is their choice of food. So we have developed a system that lets them choose food when they want it, the amount they want and the types of food they want. That makes for much, much happier patients.”

Menus are now waiting for patients when they arrive at their rooms. The service starts at 7 a.m. and is available until 7 p.m. Dedicated chefs cook the food fresh in independent on-site kitchens at each hospital facility, and meals are delivered to the rooms by wait staff in specially stylized uniforms of scrubs and waiter coats.

The menus include simple ordering instructions and some direction for six types of specialty diets, including options for liquid diets.

A specialized computer system verifies that food fits doctor-ordered dietary restrictions, while timers and scanners ensure the order matches the patient and is delivered in a timely fashion.

But the real appeal is in the vast menu selections featuring some 150 items, including a dozen entrees for dinner or lunch, nearly a dozen items off the grill, a half dozen types of salads as well as a full page of desserts — three types of cobbler (including sugar-free options), puddings, cakes and ice cream.

Patients also may create their own deli sandwiches, with choices from roast beef to turkey pastrami and four types of cheeses, as well as nearly 20 side dishes and a wide variety of beverages — from sodas to health shakes — to round out a meal. Standard portions can be made larger or smaller upon request, and low-fat items are indicated with a red heart icon.

There are no extra charges for room service for patients, and even visitors can tap into the room service feature by purchasing guest tray certificates from the cafeteria so they can dine with patients in their rooms. Orders also can be taken in Spanish.

UT Southwestern’s service, run by a team of about 35 employees who produce and deliver some 900 meals a day, launched in February and has dramatically boosted patient satisfaction scores at the hospitals, a trend seen nationally as more and more hospitals adopt similar services.