WANTED: CXO to Transform Patient and Hospital Employee Experience

By Jennifer Decker Arevalo, MA, contributor

Although most healthcare professionals are familiar with their hospital’s leadership, such as the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) or Chief Financial Officer (CFO), they may soon see another C-level position added to the executive management team that may be unknown to them.

Chief Experience Officer (CXO) is the latest senior administrative position that hospitals are seeking to fill as they strive to understand both the patient and employee experience within their facility in order to transform their organization’s culture to one that is patient-centered.

The position, referred to as “experience designer” in the retail industry, is based on a growing trend called “experience marketing” whereby consumers move from simply purchasing manufactured goods and services (a manufacturing based economy) to a coming together of activities and influences that stimulate them to spend money (an experience based economy). Experience designers create a unique store aura in which shoppers can immerse themselves; they are much more concerned about “how” the product is purchased, not just the product itself. This type of position is quickly crossing over into other industries, such as the airlines and healthcare.

“Patients and their families are demanding more than just the best, high-tech, clinical care,” said M. Bridget Duffy, MD, newly appointed Chief Experience Officer at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio. “They want an environment that addresses everything they need to heal, that treats the whole person--mind, body and spirit. Additionally, the government and insurers are demanding that we measure patients’ satisfaction and their experience” and become more transparent.

According to Dr. Duffy, it is extremely important that the “CXO of a hospital reports to the Chief of Staff and CEO and is in the position where he or she will have leverage, visibility and accountability to drive this culture change. The position cannot be marginalized.”

In her role as CXO, Dr. Duffy is charged with creating a culture that addresses the emotional and physical experience for the patient, restores empathy as a core value, and recognizes and rewards employees for the key role they play in delivering on the patient experience.

“We have to first understand our employees’ needs and provide them with the tools and resources to better support their ability to deliver an exceptional patient experience,” said Dr. Duffy who shadowed front-line employees, including nurses, during her first few weeks as CXO. “We are doing this by mapping the employee experience in a very targeted, strategic fashion within each of our institutes to identify the experience and service gaps, as well as points of interaction.”

“Touch points,” as these points of interaction are sometimes called, are any areas where employees come into direct contact with patients, whether it be in person, over the phone or through the Internet.

As part of her responsibilities, Dr. Duffy meets with collaborative work teams that include everyone from the janitorial to administrative to clinical staff to discuss the impact of their job on patient care and outcomes.

“The most important things that come out of these meetings are a sense of parity and feelings of value and respect among the team members, since they all believe that their job is to help the patient heal by delivering the ideal experience,” said Dr. Duffy. “These team meetings have also raised the visibility and role of the nurse as a key member of the care team and restored the prominent role that nursing has always had.”

However, these meetings and her day-to-day interaction with staff at all levels have also brought about other positive changes, such as a partnership with Employee Wellness and Nursing Wellness to help employees, especially nurses, take better care of themselves.

“We know there is a shortage of nurses and many of them are already volume overloaded and working long days taking care of the sickest of the sick,” said Dr. Duffy. “Therefore, we cannot add one more burden to their day in our efforts to improve the patient experience. Instead, I work with them to enhance their well-being and understand their physical, emotional and environmental issues and concerns. Feedback from the nurses has been phenomenal! It really matters to them that someone at the corporate level cares about what their environment is like.”

Through a pilot project in nursing units, Dr. Duffy has had water dispensers installed in nursing break rooms, food carts with nutritious snacks brought to the floor and designated wellness coach champions on each of the units to provide nurses with opportunities to create more capacity and balance in their personal and professional lives. Dr. Duffy will also pilot a leadership development program for nurses who are at the core of patient-centered care.

Although there is no script or formula for CXOs to follow to teach compassion and empathy to their employees to humanize the way they deliver care, Dr. Duffy has had the CEO of Planetree speak at the Cleveland Clinic to help employees better understand this change of culture. Planetree is an organization working with hospitals and health centers to develop and implement patient-centered care in healing environments.

Hospital CXOs that use the Planetree approach are committed to improving medical care from the patient's perspective by personalizing, humanizing and demystifying the healthcare experience. Although the CXO may lead the effort to create the outstanding patient experience, it requires the dedication and buy-in of everyone working in the hospital to make it successful.


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