For Cleveland Clinic, No Task is Too Small, No Ailment Too Minor

Cleveland Clinic sees more than 4 million patients every year. It seems a little unlikely that an academic medical center of its size and clinical acclaim puts the same amount of effort into every patient's personal experience.

But according to James Merlino, MD, Cleveland Clinic's chief experience officer, that mode of operation is far from far-fetched.

Dr. Merlino, a staff colorectal surgeon, leads Cleveland Clinic's Office of Patient Experience — one of the first such departments in the country to address every aspect of a patient's encounter. Putting "patients first," the self-proclaimed guiding principle of Cleveland Clinic, means addressing the patient's "physical comfort, as well as their educational, emotional and spiritual needs."

The department has grown since its inception in 2007, and Cleveland Clinic has now become a go-to adviser for anything related to patient-centered care. Internally, there have also been benefits from this movement. Aside from the obvious positives of solid HCAHPS scores and patient satisfaction — that is, patients actually feeling happy and relieved in situations that often are the most stressful — Dr. Merlino says benefits have permeated through the ranks of staff and caregivers.

"Patient experience is really driven by two factors: processes of care linked by seamless transitions and cultural alignment around patient experience," Dr. Merlino says. "Processes of care are these best practices for experience — things like reducing noise, improving communication among physicians, ensuring patient access and follow-up efforts. However, you can't have good processes that face patients forward unless those caregivers who face patients are engaged."

Dr. Merlino — whose wife, Amy, is a maternal fetal medicine specialist at Cleveland Clinic — also founded the Association for Patient Experience. He says the organization, and Cleveland Clinic's emphasis on the patient-centered concept, is the origin point for healthcare reform. To truly reign in costs and provide "value" on a day-to-day basis, hospitals must submerse their staff in the compassion and understanding that healthcare requires. The efforts have helped Cleveland Clinic ultimately become both a stalwart for clinical care, as well as a leader in how to treat the human spirit in our most vulnerable times.

"Cleveland Clinic's unique model of medicine puts the patient at the center of everything we do," Dr. Merlino says. "As a not-for-profit group practice, we act as a unit to lower costs, improve quality and give patients and families the best outcome and experience."

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