According to the US Department of Labor, women make approximately 80% of healthcare decisions for their families. In an effort to meet their needs, some hospitals are beginning to offer luxury services or other amenities for women, in addition to top-notch medical care. The Ripa Center for Women's Health and Wellness at Cooper University Health Care in New Jersey is a multi-specialty center that focuses specifically on women's healthcare.
"We know that women are the family decision makers, especially when it comes to healthcare," says Adrienne Kirby, PhD, President and Chief Executive Officer of Cooper University Health Care. "However, many women neglect their own health and wellness due to balancing family and work obligations. The services we provide rejuvenate the body, mind and spirit, which makes them important amenities for busy women."
A luxury provider?
The goal of the Ripa Center is not to differentiate themselves as a luxury provider; the physicians at the Ripa Center see patients with all abilities to pay. "Our objective is to distinguish ourselves as a provider of the very best care in the region,” says Kirby. The Ripa Center offers primary care, Ob/Gyn, cardiology, psychiatry and women's imaging services; they also provide wellness programs to help women find balance in their lives through yoga, fitness classes, cooking classes, art programs and more. Many of their wellness programs are free; some of the specialty programs require a small fee to cover costs.
Kirby believes that the positive response from the community demonstrates the need for centers like the Ripa Center for Women. "Our doctors are able to develop close and attentive relationships with the women they care for at the Center," she says. "It is a different level of care than at any other center."
Other hospitals are kicking it up a notch by offering luxurious inpatient accommodations that might appeal to women consumers. In the early 2000s, Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston introduced The Ruth and Carl J. Shapiro Pavilion, a newly refurbished all-private-room floor with spacious rooms and amenities that one might expect from a fancy hotel. The rooms offer sweeping views of the Boston skyline, flat screen televisions, kitchenettes, terry cloth robes, a suite liaison and concierge and even room service. Emory Healthcare also has luxury pavilion suites that offer separate quarters for visitors, fine linens and plush towels, a conference/dining table and gourmet meals. According to CNN Money, the Emory suites go for $275 a night.
But is it cost effective?
A CBS News article reports that the Henry Ford Hospital in Michigan has its own restaurant that serves fresh and healthy foods, much of which is grown on site. In the article, Chief Executive Officer Nancy Schlichting said that the hospital hired an executive from Ritz-Carlton to design, and then run, their $360-million facility with the rule that the main focus always be on the patient. According to Schlichting, the costs are offset by low re-admission rates and higher rates of recovery.
"Our goal is always to have the most efficient, high-quality care," Schlichting said in the CBS News article, "so that a lot of people will come, and it'll make it a very cost-effective model for the industry."
Health economists from the University of Southern California published an article in the New England Journal of Medicine that says that improvements in hospital amenities cost more than improvements in quality of care, but the improved amenities have a greater effect on hospital volume. However, the authors believe that these amenities might complicate measurements of medical cost inflation. According to the authors, "if hospitals are providing more amenities and a better experience, then estimates of inflation of healthcare costs would arguably be biased upward, since price indexes don't account for amenities."
But what about services targeted specifically at women? Alan Zuckerman, president of Philadelphia-based consulting firm Health Strategies & Solutions, suggests that such marketing may lack viability long-term because insurers play such a large role in which provider their consumers can ultimately select.
As Zuckerman told The Inquirer, these programs "may find themselves going after affluent consumers who can pay in cash. I think it's a little dicey," he says.Not everyone agrees. "It's a marketing ploy, but I think it's a good one," physician Paula Stillman, a consultant and former Temple University Health executive, says. "It makes people more comfortable to go into services for women, to people who are more sensitive to women."