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Leadership First, and other Critical Lessons to Improve Patient Experience

By Stewart Gandolf, Chief Executive Officer
James Merlino

James Merlino MD

[2014 Cleveland Clinic Patient Experience Speaker Podcast] In our continuing series of leadership interviews, Stewart Gandolf, CEO of Healthcare Success talks with Dr. James Merlino, Chief Experience Officer and Associate Chief of Staff for the Cleveland Clinic.

A fundamental success factor for improving patient experience in any organization is a “from-the-top” mandate, Dr. James Merlino told us. As evidence, Cleveland Clinic transformed itself into a respected leader in improving patient experience.

In our podcast today, Stewart Gandolf and Dr. Merlino discussed leadership and other critical success factors for improving the patient experience:

  • 2014 Patient Experience Summit: Leadership and other Critical Lessons for Success
  • Cleveland Clinic Speaker Series: James Merlino, MD, Chief Experience Officer

“It’s critical,” Dr. Merlino said. “The CEO, the president, or whoever is the top leader, is critical to making the patient experience happen. If Doctor Cosgrove [CEO and President] at Cleveland Clinic didn’t own responsibility for this, it wouldn’t change. The only individual who has scope to mandate change everywhere is the top person.”

Just ahead of this year’s Patient Experience Summit (May 18-21), Dr. Merlino provides our listeners with several exceptional insights about success in any organization. These include:

What Patient Experience is (and isn’t) about…

At Cleveland Clinic, Dr. Merlino explained, “Patient experience is not about making patients happy; it is about how we deliver care. And that impacts safety and quality. If you touch processes that impact all three areas—safety, quality and satisfaction—you drive value and effectiveness. And that’s the point. This is about how we deliver care. It is about the experience of care. It is not about patients being satisfied; it is about safety, quality and satisfaction—they are linked.”

Patient Experience is a high-level initiative…

Hospitals that are struggling with improvements don’t have the CEO or president’s mandate. Conversely, Dr. Merlino said, “I would point to the organizations that do it well…if you talk with their leaders, they will confirm that it’s an initiative that’s lead by the top person.”

Advice for getting started…

You have to begin tomorrow. “I don’t think you can tackle the entire experience as a global problem. You have to break it down into pieces. This is about how we bring in new processes, how we align our people around a service culture, and how we start to have better conversations with patients. It has to start at the local level and then scale up.”

Our greatest reward is in what patients tell us…

In part, patient experience improvement is reflected in the metrics, and that’s how we lead and manage. “But what is most rewarding here at Cleveland Clinic is the palpable change from our patients. People talk about how we’re different. That’s the most powerful statement because people feel it, they talk about it, they see it. And that, to me, is the greatest reward.”

Future importance is growing…  

“As more people understand how patient experience relates to what they do in healthcare, it will get better traction. But what is clearly helping to drive this is the government’s appropriate focus on it. They are linking the two things—outside of taking care of patients—that doctors and hospitals care about the most, which are public-reported metrics [linked] with reimbursement.

“You’re seeing this not only from the government side, but from the private payor side as well. They are just as interested in the patient experience metrics as the government is. So increasingly you’re going to see more incentives linked around private payors as well.

Benefits of attending the Summit…

“We are excited that this is our fifth year. This will be the largest independent patient experience Summit in the world. We’ll have a huge international presence, and we’re expecting over 1,500 people to attend. What makes this summit unique is, as I say when opening the event, that [we are all] trying to drive improvements in my organization to help patients. And that is what everyone who comes to the Summit is trying to do…to improve their organization to help patients.

Healthcare Success believes in and supports the Patient Experience Summit. Lonnie Hirsch and I are also honored to be among the speakers, and we encourage you to attend.

FOR MORE information about the Cleveland Clinic 5th Annual Patient Experience: Empathy + Innovation Summit, click through to this page. Listen to more Healthcare Success Podcasts in this continuing series.

Stewart Gandolf, MBA

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James Merlino, MD, is the Chief Experience Officer of the Cleveland Clinic Health System, and is a practicing staff colorectal surgeon in the Digestive Disease Institute. He is also the founder and current president of the Association for Patient Experience. As a member of the Clinic’s executive team, he leads initiatives to improve the patient experience across the Cleveland Clinic Health System.

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