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Senior patient experience leaders needed

March 20th, 2014

by Jason A. Wolf

This headline is not for a job listing. But it should be one you seriously consider.

I and a number of colleagues--from fellow Hospital Impact blogger Anthony Cirillo and first named Chief Experience Officer (CXO) Bridget Duffy, M.D.--continue to stress the importance of having a senior experience leader.

Early investigations at The Beryl Institute showed that organizations possessing a focused senior experience leader tended to outperform others on standard experience surveys. More so, our benchmarking research and surveys from other organizations reinforce that patient experience remains a top priority for healthcare leaders.


The benchmarking research also revealed two concerning points that seem to contradict what our respondents said. First, while they identified patient experience as a priority, only 23 percent of the individuals with primary responsibility for experience efforts allotted 100 percent of their time to leading such efforts. Perhaps more concerning, 28 percent of all healthcare organizations had no experience leader of any kind.

This leads to a simple question: If we see fit to have a chief financial officer to deal with financial issues or a human resources leader to drive people strategy, why would we not assign an individual to frame and drive experience strategy? And why would we not ensure they devote 100 percent of their time to pursuing the best in performance?

When organizations express frustration with mandated or customized performance surveys, I often return to this data and ask the organizations how committed they are to achieving the results they desire.

In healthcare, a business driven on the direct interactions of human beings with human beings, we must commit to having an individual who leads these efforts. I know these individuals cannot carry out every action; but they should frame and guide an executable strategy.

Also, healthcare leaders must avoid falling into the trap of asserting everyone is responsible for experience and therefore suggesting a leader is not needed. This exemplifies an unconscious decision to "pass the buck." The problem is no one is there to receive it. Yes, every individual in a healthcare organization has a personal accountability for executing on experience efforts; but if everyone is responsible, all to often no one is.

In continuing to explore this issue, we interviewed 15 leaders for the latest paper from the Institute, "The Chief Experience Officer - An Emerging & Critical Role." The leaders shared compelling stories, which led to a critical point: Healthcare organizations need an effective, focused and reinforced strategy to advance patient experience efforts and an individual tasked with leading this charge. Their recommendations include:

  • Commit to having a CXO (or related role) that can focus 100 percent of their time on this effort. Recognizing that the size of some healthcare facilities may prohibit an independent role, consider identifying a focused champion to guide and reinforce efforts to prioritize experience.
  • CXOs should report to an organization's senior most leader (CEO, etc.) as with any other central role in the C-suite and have authority equivalent to their peers.
  • CXOs do not come from one mold. The diversity of experience individuals bring to the CXO role is varied. This brings a richness and breadth of thought that supports success.
  • CXOs should encompass a broad functional scope that helps guide and actively influence (but not in every case directly manage) macro strategies across quality, safety and service.
  • Experience efforts must be properly resourced in the context of the organization. This could equate to budget, people and/or other sources of support.
  • CXOs should be engaged building and guiding organizational culture. The CXO role should guide key people strategies focused on culture, consistency and accountability.
  • Recognize the CXO role is relatively new and will continue to evolve. There needs to be both a commitment to focus and a willingness to experiment with what works for your organization.

If this rallying cry sounds familiar, it should. We are at a critical juncture in healthcare where the power of consumer choice is being impacted by the choices of those delivering care or supporting those efforts in each and every encounter. The rationale is clear, but even more importantly, the responsibility is as well.

This is about an obligation we have in caring for one another and the realization that every one deserves the best in experience. Yes, we need senior patient experience leaders. This is no longer a brave or visionary choice; it is simply a humanly wise one.

Jason A. Wolf, Ph.D., is president of The Beryl Institute, where he specializes in organizational effectiveness, service excellence and high performance in healthcare. Follow Jason @jasonawolf and The Beryl Institute @berylinstitute on Twitter.


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