The evolution of the CXO: 5 findings

Chief experience officers, or other similarly titled leaders, are one of the newest members of the hospital and health system C-suite, tasked with managing and improving patients' experience within the healthcare system. CXOs have gained scope and respect in the C-suite as studies show how experience affects all aspects of care.

"Experience does relate closely to things like quality, to safety," Liz Boehm, director of Vocera Experience Innovation Network, said during the Becker's Hospital Review 7th Annual Meeting in Chicago on April 29. "We know that generally when there's a better patient experience, you see better safety outcomes."

Ms. Boehm shared key points from a 2016 survey and study by Vocera's Experience Innovation Network covering the evolution of the CXO. Since the position is still relatively new, the study uncovered some growing pains the position is going through at various organizations in the industry.

Five points from the study are highlighted below.

1. Experience is now a highly strategic position, but governance structure varies significantly. Thirty-nine percent of experience leaders in healthcare organizations report directly to the CEO or president, up from 32 percent in 2015's survey. Ms. Boehm cited Sutter Health in Sacramento, Calif., as a unique example of structure. "Sutter Health said experience really is the overarching umbrella. If somebody has a bad clinical outcome, they've had a poor experience. If somebody has a hugely disrupted or inefficient process, they've had a bad experience," Ms. Boehm said. As a result, Sutter put its senior vice president of patient experience as the top leader on the patient safety side of things, with the CNO and others in roles related to patient safety reporting directly to him.

2. CXO responsibilities still focus within the hospital, as 40 percent of experience leaders are not responsible for primary care settings. That means experience leadership is still catching up with accountable care. However, "the more mature organizations get in terms of managing experience, the more likely they are to look across that continuum," Ms. Boehm said. For example, Winston-Salem, N.C.-based Novant Health created an office of patient experience that addresses experience across the care continuum, including primary and specialty care, urgent and emergency care, hospital and acute care, and post-acute care.

3. Experience leaders are still focusing on scores, not innovation. While 64 percent of survey respondents said creating or improving the experience culture was one of their top three priorities, 63 percent still said a priority is to improve patient experience scores. "To chase scores is a very different thing than [implementing] something into your culture," she said. "That can be something of a conflict."

Meanwhile, just 13 percent said a priority is to create innovative new care models and experiences that drive differentiation. "In my mind, that is the ultimate goal of experience," Ms. Boehm said.

4. Physicians are still missing from the experience conversation. "Experience doesn't have to be led necessarily by the physician, but physicians need to be part of the conversation…They are the leaders of the healthcare team, and if they're not leading what the experience should be, it won't get very far," Ms. Boehm said. However, just 12 percent of survey respondents said they have a medical degree. Additionally, just 4 percent of respondents said physicians are active leaders of experience improvement efforts in their organizations. Ms. Boehm said when organizations have at least a physician ally for patient experience improvement, they are the most successful.

For example, Meridian Health in Neptune, N.J., uses a dyad partnership between its CNO and CMO who are passionate about experience to drive engagement.

5. The role of the patient and family voice is still growing. According to Ms. Boehm, having a single patient/family advisory council is a great place to start, and 54 percent of organizations reported having such a council. Even better would be to have patient/family partners dedicated to every improvement project, which 28 percent of organizations reported having in place. "The thing that scares me is that 7 percent of respondents think they can do patient experience or experience improvement without patients and families," Ms. Boehm said. "That just doesn't make any sense to me."

She used the example of University of Colorado Health in Aurora to illustrate her point. UCHealth changed its policy, without consulting patients, to match cancer patients with a familiar nurse during each visit. However, patients reported their top priority was to get in and out of their chemotherapy appointments as quickly as possible, the health system changed protocol to match patients with the next available nurse, thus shortening wait times and improving patient experience.

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