• Article
  • May 15, 2018

How Popcorn Helps One Hospital Enhance the Patient Experience

Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Children enhances the patient experience with a "pop."

Every year, Scottish Rite Hospital volunteers dish out 6,000 pounds of its signature treat.
Every year, Scottish Rite Hospital volunteers dish out 6,000 pounds of its signature treat.

Daniel Sucato watched the patient, a young boy with severe scoliosis, bounce happily in his halo traction device and recalls what the boy's father had told him. "This place is amazing. You gave us something that nobody else could give us," the man told Sucato, M.D., M.S., chief of staff at Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Children in Dallas.

Sucato began to explain to the man how this halo traction device was designed by engineers at Scottish Rite Hospital specifically to treat very complex cases like his son's, when the father interrupted. "No, that's not what you gave us that other people couldn't," he said. "You gave us hope."

Putting patients at the center

Providing a sense of hope to patients and their families is the primary goal of Sucato and his team at Scottish Rite Hospital, and it goes beyond the skill and expertise of its medical teams. The building and grounds are decorated in bright, vibrant colors. Every staff member, as well as the hospital's more than 800 volunteers, is encouraged to greet every guest with a smile as a member of the hospital's "healing team."

"My goal is to have patients and families feel like they're not in a hospital," Sucato says. "When you walk through the doors, you really feel the vibrancy of the institution—the colors, the smiles, the happiness. It's energetic."

An important component to the patient-centric atmosphere is the layout of the building itself. Constructed more than 40 years ago, Scottish Rite Hospital was designed specifically to not "look, smell or feel like a hospital." Patients and their families walk wide hallways bathed in natural light, with no medical equipment in sight.

The patient care teams gather in a central core area where they collaborate before they enter the clinic rooms, which are situated in a circle around the core. This architectural element puts the child at ease during their experience by allowing patients and families to enter the exam rooms through one door and their doctors and nurses through another.

And then there's the popcorn.


The hospital's "signature"

The idea began many years ago with a donated popcorn machine, and today it's the "signature scent" of Scottish Rite Hospital. Patients, families and staff members line up for their share of the more than 6,000 pounds of popcorn hospital volunteers pop annually—all at 25 cents per bag.

The popular snack has become synonymous with Scottish Rite Hospital. The treat is the hospital's calling card in various community outreach efforts. Most importantly, it's another way to get Scottish Rite Hospital patients to forget they're in a hospital.

"Popcorn is a happy thing. Everyone enjoys it, and you're usually at a fun venue when you're eating popcorn—the movies, the fair," Sucato says. "It's part of the fabric of this institution, it's part of who we are. It contributes to the feeling you get when you come here."

Psychological effects

For Sucato and his "healing team" at Scottish Rite Hospital, everything about the atmosphere—the building layout, the smiling staff, the popcorn—serves a deeper purpose. "The psychological aspect is incredibly important, we've studied it," Sucato says. "As patients come to the hospital it's a much more positive experience if they're in a better frame of mind. Ultimately it comes down to what we are really here to do, and that's to put the patient at the center."

Send questions or comments to magazine@childrenshospitals.org.