New Seat in the Hospital C-Suite: The Rise of the Chief Experience Officer

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Patient experience has always been an important metric for hospitals and health systems because of its impact on patient outcomes. "Higher patient satisfaction and experience leads to healthier and more engaged patients," says Brian Johnston, a partner in Stanton Chase International's Nashville, Tenn., office and leader of its North American Healthcare Practice Group. Stanton Chase International is a retained executive search firm with 73 offices in 46 countries.

Now, more than ever before, patient experience scores have a financial impact due to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. The PPACA ties a portion of hospitals' reimbursement to their patient experience scores. Additionally, Medicare uses certain patient experience scores to measure the progress of its accountable care organizations. "It's good for the patient and also a financially impactful piece of running the business," Mr. Johnston says.

Brian Johnston, Stanton Chase InternationalBeyond the quality and financial implications, providing excellent patient experience also gives hospitals a boost over their market competitors, as happy patients tend to tell others about their positive experience. "Through word of mouth and marketing, it can give [hospitals] a competitive edge," explains Mr. Johnston. "It can help [hospitals] compete against other that are not up to seep with [patient] satisfaction or experience."

For all of those reasons, many hospitals have started placing a new emphasis on providing a top-rate experience for patients by doing simple things, such as having housekeeping knock on the door before entering, to carrying out bigger projects like offering concierge services and valets. This new emphasis on patient experience has also caused many hospitals and health systems to add a seat in the C-suite: a chief experience officer. A CXO is essentially in charge of making every patient's experience a positive one in the hospital or health system and innovating new ways to improve patient experience and boost satisfaction scores.

Adding a CXO title to the C-suite gives hospitals a two-fold advantage to improving patient experience scores: a specialized focus on improving the metric and the ability to attract the top talent to the position, according to Mr. Johnston. "The larger organizations that are really more progressive are using the title. Many others are using methods to improve patient experience, but the title helps attract the best of the best," he says.

A CXO's background

There is no one-size-fits-all description of a CXO, and every organization is looking for something different when seeking someone to fill the role. However, Mr. Johnston has noticed that candidates with the following traits and work histories have become successful chief experience officers.

Nursing experience. Nurses often have the most one-on-one contact with patients of any care provider, so CNOs and other nurses with executive experience have made successful CXOs. "Nurses have seen the good, bad and the ugly of patient care and are behind the drive to improve it," Mr. Johnston explains.

Hospitality industry experience. "There has been a culture shift in healthcare toward using people from other industries to lead hospitals," Mr. Johnston says. More and more, hospitals are aiming to treat patients as guests, he says, and the hospitality industry has been taking care of guests since the beginning of the industry — making hospitality industry executives the perfect fit for a healthcare CXO.

An "up-and-comer." The younger generation of healthcare executives has likely been immersed in the importance of patient experience since the onset of their careers. "They understand that experience and satisfaction scores are key to hospital viability, and they have a strong push to improve patient experience and satisfaction," says Mr. Johnston. For that reason, he says, many organizations looking for a CXO will consider a director or a vice president-level executive for the position.

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