11/24/2014 10:15 am ET Updated Jan 24, 2015

Customer Service Trumps Health at a Top-Rated Hospital

I normally discuss women's issues here, but I have a different concern this time.

My failure to adequately manage my health, while putting in long hours to get my startup off the ground, landed me in the hospital three weeks ago. I'm fine now, I'm back to work, and I'm grateful for the doctors' care I received. But my experience was a wake-up call to how a prestigious medical institution can ignore one of the primary contributors to long-term health.

During my brief stay I was shocked that the hospital staff did not seem to know how to deal with a diabetic like myself given the food choices they offered. My surgeon had told me I needed to closely monitor my diet and to keep my sugar, fat, and carbohydrate consumption under control. But for breakfast I was served orange juice, pancakes with syrup, Cheerios, and toast and jam! When I complained that I should not have been served this, I was told, "We can't do anything about it. You're on the Observation Floor, where we have no control over your meals." Huh?

When I finally made it to my assigned unit, my evening meal included angel food cake and ice cream. Double huh! I was given no instruction on what foods I should avoid, depending on my condition. Of course I'm responsible for what I eat, but should the hospital be tempting me?

How is it that one of the top health institutions in the U.S. -- with the best doctors, nurses, technicians, and administrators -- can ignore such a critical element of good health as nutrition? (This is a "top five" hospital in most national surveys, a "top three" hospital in diabetes and endocrinology according to a recent survey, and a prominent teaching hospital!)

Unfortunately this is a common occurrence at health centers across the country -- which puts not only their diabetes patients at risk, but also those suffering from heart disease.

When I spoke with my diabetes doctor she told me that one of the reasons hospitals do not serve food for restrictive diets is because they found that serving restricted diets had a negative impact on their customer satisfaction statistics. I was surprised that customer satisfaction trumped a heath and well-being.

The circumstances that landed me in the hospital bear some resemblance to those of Arianna Huffington seven years ago, when her health collapsed while she was working 18 hours a day to build The Huffington Post -- as described in her book Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder. She finally began to restore her health by learning how to unplug, practice "mindfulness" and meditation, and undertake better sleeping and eating habits.

I too sacrificed my health by devoting most of my waking hours to my company. But I am now returning to the things that have nurtured me in the past, including exercise, meditation, and nutritional food.

As a result of my experience this month, I am beginning to see that the "interventionary" focus of our health care institutions on pharmaceutical and surgical solutions -- as necessary as these are in serious cases and as grateful as I am for the care I just received -- can divert attention and resources from the systemic contributors to long-term health and wellness.