Automation Pays Off in Healthcare Foodservice

Nathan, the CFO of a West Coast hospital system, has a problem –– and a solution. His foodservice team leaders have asked for add-ons to their automation to enable better patient service and nutritional monitoring. Nathan knows having more connected, automated foodservice operations would give him more data and enable economies of scale. But he has a fixed budget for the next fiscal cycles. Luckily, he’s learned that self-service food kiosks and vending machines are a both a great next step to automation and a new revenue stream. His leaders don’t see any issues supporting such automation. Installing kiosks across facilities looks like a win-win.

Previous CBORD Insights research and blog posts have explored the many operational challenges facing healthcare campuses in today’s environment. Labor shortages are driving up wages and eroding service levels. Supply chain issues and inflation are requiring just-in-time substitutions and inflating budgets. And patient, visitor, and staff expectations for frictionless service has never been higher.

Fortunately, automation gives healthcare administrators many levers of control. Today, automation is widely seen as a way to reduce the need for people to perform routine tasks or as aChart showing top areas where automation helps in healthcare tool that helps employees work more productively. In a recent CBORD survey, the top two benefits of automation cited by healthcare foodservice professionals were “operational efficiencies” and “predictable costs,” followed closely by “dietary protections.”

Automation can indeed assist leaders with their ongoing efforts to increase efficiency and cut costs — but that’s just the beginning. As many healthcare systems are discovering, automation can deliver a range of other benefits. It can improve quality and reduce errors in work — for example, the automated downloading of inventories from a food vendor’s systems helps ensure that cafeteria operations have up-to-date data.  This reduces the need to manually key in data, thereby saving time and reducing inputting errors.

Building Best Practices

Automation can do more than support routine tasks, such as cafeteria checkout or patient food delivery. It can also be used to manage workflows across departments and organizations. Adult using a kiosk to self-order food This makes it possible to institutionalize best practices, ensuring work is done consistently, accurately, and on time. For example, patient room service can now be scheduled or ordered from a private smartphone, with controls for nutritional requirements. A patient’s food tray can be tracked around the facility, adding precision to the meal delivery process. In addition, software-based workflows can be easily modified to accommodate new policies and procedures.

Automation can manage costs, reduce labor requirements, and even enable new revenue streams. Self-serve food kiosks, for example, not only remove staffing costs, they also open up a new sales channel. Research shows that a majority of consumers enjoy using kiosks to order food. These devices work so well that they have become widely used and accepted in private-sector restaurants. “For-profit businesses have analyzed their environments and found these to be an effective way to drive revenue,” says Brett Africk, director of sales, platform systems, at CBORD.

Healthcare foodservice executive in cafe

Upselling from Kiosks

Kiosks also makes it easier to upsell. “This is more than the traditional, ‘I‘ll have fries with that’ approach,” says Africk. “It can involve an array of customizations, like having avocado on your turkey sandwich or a fried egg on your hamburger, and things that people might not even know about until the kiosk prompts them.”

These options are typically presented with images and text, and customers can simply push a button to add items. “Kiosks really drive revenue because they upsell for you automatically,” he says. In fact, McDonald’s has reportedly found that the use of kiosks increases average order size by about 30%, compared to counter sales.

In healthcare, the use of these devices has shown that “the return on investment on a single kiosk is less than a year,” says Africk. “If you have a bank of kiosks, it is even faster, because you get some economies of scale with multiple machines.”

Expanding Options

Kiosks are just one way automation enables foodservice delivery on healthcare campuses. Staff and visitors can now order meals on their phone, then swing by a food locker or service counter to pick up. They can walk in and out of unmanned self-service shops that deduct payments automatically. They can place orders and pay with their credentials at a variety of hospital-run and on-campus franchise-run operations like Starbucks. All on the go.

Overall, effective automation can help increase efficiency, quality, and consistency in healthcare foodservice operations and help boost revenues—often at the same time. The pace of change is accelerating, but not as fast as demand for frictionless app-driven options. And as the technology continues to improve, automation can be expected to open the door to a range of innovations that will help systems meet operational challenges and deliver a better experience for patients, visitors, and staff alike.

CBORD Insights proprietary research, Customer Priorities Survey, September 2022, n=276.

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