Chief experience officer role gains traction under ACA

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Editor’s Note: This article appeared in the October 6, 2014 issue of Modern Healthcare Magazine.

While the jury is still out on the long-term effectiveness and efficiencies of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the growing focus for hospitals on continual improvement of the overall experience patients have at their facilities is clearly taking root. In this area—that of positively driving the patient experience—the ACA certainly is playing an important role.

Hospital marketers have historically examined the voice of the customer and related patient-experience data as a best-practice methodology. However, today, the shift toward patient experience valuations is driven significantly by economics. Healthcare professionals realize, with the implementation of the ACA, hospital reimbursements are affected by patient-satisfaction scores. The better the satisfaction scores, the higher the level of reimbursement.

This focus has nurtured a shift in the management needs of hospitals and health systems and the rise of the chief experience officer (CXO). These leaders are charged with developing patient-focused and less-institutional cultures. We’re seeing growing interest from our clients’ healthcare organizations regarding CXO professionals.

It’s all about creating a positive patient experience leading to improved loyalty, positive word-of-mouth referrals, and return visitors to their establishments.

The CMS has developed numerous ways to gauge patient satisfaction. Much of its efforts are focused on patient surveys. Patients also have the opportunity to address other issues related to their experience. These may include the quality of food, availability of staff to answer questions, the ability of healthcare professionals to address patients by their names, etc. It just comes down to showing common courtesy to everyone.

We have been asked: “What type of experience do you need in a CXO?” There is no one-size-fits-all criteria, but here is a sample of the types of experience and traits that hospitals look for:

Clinical experience: Clinicians, especially those with “high emotional intelligence” skills, often have the most one-on-one contact with patients. Many charge nurses and chief nursing officers have made the transition to the CXO management role. Keep in mind that for many systems, nurses have largely led the drive to improve patient experiences. But without physician acceptance and operational leadership, organizations are only talking the talk without genuine buy-in and support, which are needed to achieve success.

New generation healthcare providers: In some cases, hospitals are looking beyond experienced baby boomer types to many Gen X or some Gen Y professionals who understand that experience, satisfaction reporting and accurate data are keys to a hospital’s current success and future viability. This is particularly true if they also bring customer relationship management and strong business data analysis to the table.

Empathetic former patients: We’ve worked with executives who have direct experience as patients fighting a chronic disease. This knowledge builds empathy, understanding and creativity when it comes to patient experience. People who have spent time as patients know firsthand how to treat patients with dignity and respect. They should be strong candidates for executive-level positions.

Evidence of industry expansion around the CXO role is easy to see. Cleveland Clinic’s Patient Experience and Innovation Summit has grown from one hospital’s internal culture to nationally addressing the needs of clinical outcomes and incentives. In four years, it has grown from a few hundred attendees to well over 800 at the most recent gathering.

The emphasis on patient experience and the critical role of the CXO has far-reaching consequences. Higher patient satisfaction leads to more engaged patients, which leads to higher reimbursements.

Improving patient experience is good financially for a hospital or healthcare system. Just as important, it’s just the right thing to do for better healthcare outcomes.

As the focus on creating a positive patient experience increases rapidly in American hospitals, the expanding need for CXO leadership is on the radar of healthcare systems large and small, as well as their networks. And this new orientation is also a top priority for the governing boards at these organizations. Identifying the right leaders for these roles requires board members and senior leaders who can identify the skill sets that will improve their organizations in today’s increasingly competitive healthcare environment.

If you want a gut check about the importance of the patient experience and the rise of the CXO, ask yourself this question: “Would I want to be a patient here or send my family members here?”

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