Perspective: The State of Patient Experience [Podcast]
James Merlino, MD

James Merlino, MD

[Leadership Podcast Series] In this conversation with Stewart Gandolf, CEO of Healthcare Success, Dr. James Merlino, president and chief medical officer of the strategic consulting division at Press Ganey provides an insightful perspective on healthcare’s evolving landscape, significant leadership issues and the state of patient experience.

Prior to joining Press Ganey, Dr. James Merlino—also a practicing surgeon—was the Chief Experience Officer of the Cleveland Clinic Health System. In this leadership podcast, Dr. Merlino draws on his practical and diverse knowledge and experience and speaks with us about contemporary issues for hospitals and the nation’s health care delivery system.

Among today’s topics, Stewart Gandolf and Dr. Merlino discuss patient safety as a strategic priority, transparency in healthcare, healthcare reform and patient experience. Some highlights include:


In the United States, patient safety and quality of care are among the most significant issues. And while hospitals have made tremendous improvements in patient safety, much more remains to be accomplished. If you treat patient safety as if it were a disease, it would be the third leading cause of death in the United States.

“When you look at organizations that have achieved high performance and high reliability like the airline industry, the reality is that [the hospital industry] can be more like them. We can do a better job of delivering safer healthcare. We have to standardize more of what we’re doing, we have to elevate reduction of harm to a top strategic priority, we have to make safety an uncompromisable core value of our organization. We have to do more to protect people.”


Healthcare has made a lot of progress on the topic of transparency—more and more organizations are transparent in their information—but we still have a lot of work to do. There’s more and more information available, and when we are transparent about it, it drives change.

Dr. Merlino observed that transparency applies to accolades as well as opportunities. At the University of Utah, for example, when doctors’ scores and comments were published on their website, several things happened.

First, the scores improved. Second, the doctors had many, many more positive comments than negative comments; and they liked seeing their positive comments out there. And third, it had a significant impact on their brand because it changed the search dynamics on a site like Google.


“The bottom line is that healthcare reform has fundamentally brought some good things to healthcare. The thing that I get excited about is the focus, finally, on metrics that matter.

[bctt tweet=”The bottom line is that healthcare reform has fundamentally brought some good things to healthcare. “]

“For example, this has taken things that are really important to patients—things like safety, equality, the service experience—and it has linked provider performance to reimbursement. And that is driving significant attention and change in healthcare.”


A significant insight is that, “you can list the top issues that hospitals across the county are paying attention to today. But it was somewhat surprising for me to find that the priority of those issues is very different. Some organizations are focused on market share, some are focused on safety, and some have elevated patient experience to the top [of the list].

“But what is most surprising to me is just how differently organizations approach problems. The variability of how organizations execute a solution is fascinating. There are a lot of “right ways” to do things, but the variability of approach is striking.”

For more in this series…

Additional podcasts and previous Healthcare Success leadership conversations are available on this page. For other podcast conversations with Dr. Merlino, listen to:

Stewart Gandolf, MBA

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Dr. James Merlino is president and chief medical officer of the strategic consulting division at Press Ganey. As an accomplished surgeon and industry leader in improving the patient experience, Jim draws from more than two decades of health care experience to oversee Press Ganey’s consultancy division. Prior to joining Press Ganey, Jim served as chief experience officer and associate chief of staff at the Cleveland Clinic health system, and as a colorectal surgeon at the Clinic’s Digestive Disease Institute, where he continues to practice. 

Stewart Gandolf
Chief Executive Officer & Creative Director at Healthcare Success
Over the years Stewart has personally marketed and consulted for over 1,457 healthcare clients, ranging from private practices to multi-billion dollar corporations. Additionally, he has marketed a variety of America’s leading companies, including Citicorp, J. Walter Thompson, Grubb & Ellis, Bally Total Fitness, Wells Fargo and Chase Manhattan. Stewart co-founded our company, and today acts as Chief Executive Officer and Creative Director. He is also a frequent author and speaker on the topic of healthcare marketing. His personal accomplishments are supported by a loving wife and two beautiful daughters.



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