Private rooms, they say, are becoming the standard of care.
As the suburban hospitals, which are often blessed with cheap, easy parking, make themselves prettier and more comfortable, it raises a question: How will that affect their aging, landlocked university-hospital competitors in the city?
It must be a touchy subject, judging by how little those hospitals wanted to talk about it.
Thomas Jefferson University Hospital did not respond at all to questions about whether it plans to create more private rooms.
Without being specific, Temple University Hospital said in a last-minute, three-line statement that it has a "mix" of single and double rooms with no building campaign in the works. "Our focus is on creating the ideal patient-care experience regardless of room configuration," spokeswoman Rebecca Harmon said.
After more than a week, Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania spokesman Marc Kaplan said he was unable to find anyone to discuss the subject or tell him the breakdown of private vs. double rooms in the hospital. Penn has a sophisticated computerized system for assigning rooms.
When asked again Tuesday, he offered one sentence: "We are aware that patients have indicated that they prefer single rooms and Penn's health system is working towards converting all our rooms to single-occupancy." He did not say what steps the system is taking to do that. Penn has a luxurious 10-bed unit that offers private rooms - for patients who are willing to pay more.
Hahnemann University Hospital, which has been converting double rooms to private, was more forthcoming. Over the last five years, it has renovated five inpatient units, creating 50 private rooms. It still has 171 semiprivate rooms, although patients in those rooms do not always have roommates. "There's no doubt that patients' and family expectations have evolved over time from wards to semiprivate to private rooms. We work hard to accommodate the trend," spokeswoman Coleen Cannon said.
Albert Einstein Medical Center, another large city hospital, also has been converting some of its double rooms to private in the last two or three years. It is building a new hospital in Montgomery Hospital that will have all private rooms.
Chuck Davis, chief executive officer of Jennersville Regional Hospital in Chester County, said his hospital would have nothing but private rooms by spring 2012. He recently gave a talk about the hospital's plans at a local retirement community. "Does that mean that the rates are going to go up?" someone asked.
While it is more expensive to build private rooms, it is not more expensive to operate them, he said. They give the hospital much more flexibility to fill beds because it does not have to worry about matching patients by sex or type of illness. The private rooms are quieter. Privacy is not only a top priority for patients, but a legal requirement.
Modern equipment makes larger rooms a necessity. "These old rooms simply cannot accommodate the glut of technologies and equipment we're dealing with," Davis said.
Insurers do not pay more for private rooms, experts said.
Ken Braithwaite, senior vice president of the Delaware Valley Healthcare Council, said: "It makes more sense going forward to have single-bed rooms." He added, though, that he did not think most people would choose a hospital on the basis of the rooms.
Dan Grauman, president of DGA Partners, a management-consulting firm in Bala Cynwyd, said the combination of hospital closures and the aging of baby boomers translates into high demand for hospitals here. He does not think cosmetic competition will be a "major area of concern" for hospitals such as HUP and Jefferson that offer extremely complex care.
Alan Zuckerman, president of Health Strategies & Solutions, of Philadelphia, is not so sure. It is hard for patients to know which hospitals have the highest quality. Some form a large part of their opinion about a hospital on the basis of factors such as the friendliness of nurses, cleanliness, and comfort, he said.
Robert Field, a professor of health management and policy at the Drexel University School of Public Health, said U.S. hospitals offered many more amenities, including private rooms, than those in other countries. It is what patients want.
"I do think this is a competitive threat to city hospitals," he said. "I think it's an attempt to siphon off the most profitable well-insured patients and deter them from going downtown."
Contact staff writer Stacey Burling at 215-854-4944 or firstname.lastname@example.org.