Medical Mystery Shopping – Hospital Food Service Case Study

Medical Mystery Shopping – Hospital Food Service Case Study

A Success Story in Hospital Food Service

Verify HealthCare conducted a comprehensive hospital-wide food service audit to determine vendor compliance to performance standards and contractual obligations.

The client: a prominent metropolitan hospital in the Southwest in the process of major expansion.

The Engagement:

The hospital had already attained a national reputation for excellence in pediatric care but wanted to improve support services performance and quality, particularly in food service.

Hospital administration was disappointed with its contracted food service vendor and, over a period of time, discovered that food quality, service, and sanitation were falling short of desired expectations. The vendor’s three-year contract, worth approximately $3.75 million annually, was up for renewal in 6 months. Administration felt that a comprehensive performance review could help determine if the contract should be renewed, but leadership lacked sufficient time and experience to conduct such an assessment.

Hospital administration retained Verify HealthCare to:

  1. Review hospital’s and vendor’s established food service standards;
  2. Develop and implement processes to evaluate performance;
  3. Observe food service operations for 90 days and present findings;
  4. Offer recommendations for improvement.


Working with hospital administration and the vendor’s management team, Verify HealthCare identified five (5) obstacles to success:

  1. Poor sanitation levels and working environment
  2. Inadequate / faulty equipment
  3. Extravagant use of temporary employees
  4. Under-staffing / shortage of FTE’s
  5. Lack of effective training

Verify HealthCare used the following methodologies to pinpoint performance issues:

  1. Specific vendor and hospital standards for food service were identified and revised to serve as performance benchmarks to measure quality of products and services.
  2. On-site inspections were conducted during each working shift to assess department adherence to established standards, including customer service, product quality, sanitation, food safety, and work environment.
  3. Confidential questionnaires were administered to food service employees, hospital staff, visitors, and patients to rate satisfaction levels and help identify areas for improvement.
  4. “Mystery shopper” audits were conducted in all food service outlets to determine compliance to established policies and performance standards.
  5. Mystery shopper visits were conducted at competitor food service outlets for comparative analysis.
  6. Performance “Scorecards” were published and shared with leadership, based upon audit findings and feedback from interviews with food service vendor management, supervisors, and HR representatives.
  7. Recommendations for improvement were categorized by priority level and presented to hospital administration and vendor representatives.

Key Results:

After the initial benchmarking study, which produced an overall performance score for food service, improvement initiatives were considered. Hospital administration in turn placed the vendor on probation, pending a follow up audit 6 months later.

Verify HealthCare presented a detailed action plan, which was implemented by the vendor in response to the audit. Key staff changes were made, and performance improved dramatically.

  1. During the past 4 years, follow up assessments have been conducted on a bi-annual basis. Key results that have emerged from the evaluations include the following:
  2. The department’s overall quality score increased from a low score of 54% to a high score of 94%, a 74% improvement.
  3. Sanitation levels improved 60%.
  4. Product quality improved 32%.
  5. Customer service ratings improved 40% and are at their highest level ever.
  6. The department earned Press Ganey’s highest satisfaction scores for outstanding performance within 3 years of Verify’s initial audit.
  7. The department earned the highest award for the NSF food safety audit in the region.
  8. Use of temporary employees on the payroll has been eliminated, saving the department over $200K per year in payroll expenses.
  9. The room service team won the CHCA award for customer service initiatives.
  10. Employee turnover decreased nearly 40%, saving thousands of dollars in payroll costs.
  11. Quality standards are updated and reviewed twice per year to ensure a consistent focus on food service excellence, helping to strengthen the hospital’s brand of excellence.
  12. Standards for the newly established room service program have been implemented.
  13. The main cafeteria servery and dining areas underwent a major renovation, and kitchen equipment was significantly upgraded. The cafeteria won a national design award.
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