Building the Case for a Chief Patient Experience Officer & Questioning the Idea of Seeking “Raving Fans”?

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The November 2012 issue of HH&N, the flagship publication of the American Hospital Association, has an article (part of a series “Focus on the C-Suite”) on “Your CXO – Listener in Chief”.  It presents the case for having a Chief Patient Experience Officer and offers some interesting information of what CXO’s do.

Having shown some skepticism about this trend in a previous post, I was impressed by much that was said.  For example, consider this from James Merlino, Chief Experience Officer for the Cleveland Clinic (and Board Member of the Association for Patient Experience:  “We relabeled all of our employees as caregivers — it doesn’t matter what you do for the organization, if you support the mission you support the caring of patients.  To change the culture we sat all of our staff down in small groups for three hours to talk about service excellence and what it means to be a caregiver. We asked them to pick a value in their job and tell us what it means.  To do it with 43,000 caregivers, we trained 400 employee-facilitators to lead the discussions.  We regularly take 2,500 managers offline to talk about skill building and to reinforce our patients-first principles.”

I could not have recommended it better myself, I thought.  And maybe it takes the creation of a C-level position to get needed commitment.

The article explains what CXO’s do:  They “develop and cultivate an organizational patient experience strategy”.  Together with the others in the C Suite, they “operationalize” that strategy.  They gain support and resources for these efforts – presumably ensuring that the time and money for training like that reported at Cleveland Clinic are available.  They set objectives and benchmarks.  They identify and assist departments not meeting these.  They “celebrate success and encourage stretch goals”.

Does that all sound a little general, if not clichéd?  The article goes to list nine steps that the CXO can follow toward exemplary patient experience.  First is to hire exceptional staff.  Next is to create clear expectations for staff.  Benchmarking, rewarding, getting “customer insight,” reviewing policies, learning from other

industries, etc. – all very laudable measures, though so unspecific that they could be applied be applied to almost any management goal.

But then I read the comment of a “chief patient experience and marketing officer” (the very combination of titles arousing doubts):  “We don’t want satisfied patients, we want raving fans.” Really? Are hospital patients (or, it seems the new term may be, “customers”) actually supposed to be so enthusiastic that they can’t wait to come back again? Is healthcare supposed to be like sports or entertainment?

And that is actually according to the book If Disney Ran Your Hospital, by Fred Lee, a consultant who has worked for Florida Hospital and the Disney Institute.  His TEDxMaastricht video is a You Tube hit, and the book won the 2005 American College of Healthcare Executives (ACHE  – one my favorite acronyms) Book of the Year award.

Impressive – or frightening? I wonder what others think!  To me it is impressive that there a movement to have hospitals see things “through the patient lens”.  But it is frightening to think that healthcare is just another business – and an entertainment business at that.

Let me give a patient experience example.  I recently had a very overdue eye exam.  Both the doctor and I were shocked to find that I had lost all vision in my left eye.

Needless to say, this was very scary.  It would have been considerably helpful if the doctor had taken a little time with me and explained the possible causes and outcomes.  But before I could even ask a question, she escorted me to the front desk to make an appointment (for weeks later) with a specialist and quickly exited.

The specialist, after I went through various tests, told me that I have glaucoma.  I would have benefited from, say, five minutes conversation on what means.  Instead, I had to figure it out from talking to friends and using the Internet, as he simply gave me a prescription for eye drops (no explanation furnished) and had me make an appointment (for weeks later) with a glaucoma specialist.

Well, that’s managed care I guess.  Ordinarily, I have nothing but praise for this provider, but this time I would hardly rate my experience as satisfactory.  Indeed, it made me wonder what ever happened to the “care” in “healthcare”.  Doing tests, making diagnoses and providing treatment – certainly those are parts of care; but caring ought to include attention to patient feelings and understanding.

I would think it sound medical practice for doctors and nurses to explain things and help put the patient at ease.  Does it require a new C suite office and a new bureaucracy to bring about what should be fundamental?

Jim murphyJim Murphy has a solo consulting practice called Management 3000, focusing on organizational development and change management. Formerly he led the Massachusetts Bay Organizational Development Learning Group, was Human Resources Director for the City of Boston Assessing Department, and served as a consultant with the Boston Management Consortium.  His consulting practice includes management coaching as well as research and writing on employee relationships, leadership, healthcare and collaborative practices.  Having produced newsletters for several organizations  and being a frequent content writer for the”Confident Voices in Healthcare” blog, he is interested in writing and research opportunities, as we all consulting and coaching.




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2 Responses to Building the Case for a Chief Patient Experience Officer & Questioning the Idea of Seeking “Raving Fans”?

  1. Pingback: Do High Patient Satisfaction Really Mean Profit to Hospitals?

  2. Hi Jim,
    Thanks for your informative and provocative post. I’m sorry for the assembly-line treatment you received and for the loss of your vision in your left eye. All the things they DID do seem like billable tasks….important to do and yet without some time to show concern and offer some education and listen to YOU, a sad reflection on the whole process. Sometimes when I am working as a nurse in my direct care role, I feel so busy and rushed that I have lost touch with the caring part of my work. And I don’t like the feeling. I think showing that we care and listening to patients is extremely therapeutic and we need to make this a priority. It doesn’t seem realistic to try to make you “Happy” about your glaucoma, but cared for, understood, and informed….? Yes, we can and should do this!

What are your thoughts?