St. Peter's Healthcare CXO on aiming higher as bar gets raised on patient satisfaction

Lisa Drumbore, vice president of marketing and communication and chief patient experience officer at Saint Peter's Healthcare System in New Brunswick, N.J., discusses the increasing emphasis on patient experience within the industry, the importance of an engaged workforce and the value of keeping promises.

Editor's Note: Responses have been lightly edited for clarity and length.

Question: What is the No. 1 challenge facing healthcare chief experience officers? How do you plan to tackle it?

Lisa Drumbore: The challenge is to truly understand and manage the correlation between employee engagement levels and engaged, satisfied patients. In the end, it is always about the culture.

When I started at Saint Peter's in 2001, I was the very first director of service excellence in the state. It was easier to stand out in the very crowded market when other hospitals were, perhaps, putting far less emphasis on the importance of service.

But times are not only changing; they have changed. Now, our competition sees the value of service, and other organizations are putting more professionals in place and supporting them with more training. This enables them to focus more on what I, and Saint Peter's, have always known is so important.

So, the real question regarding 'how to tackle it' is: How do we stay ahead as the bar gets raised?

We continue to innovate by attracting healthcare's best and brightest medical professionals, employing new technology in terms of diagnostics and treatments, growing our infrastructure and services to meet the needs of a more demanding patient population, and never, ever failing to compete in a positive way to manage expectations.

We must remember healthcare is always about the experience and what happens before, during and after a customer, whether patient or family member or anyone else, interacts with Saint Peter's.

Maya Angelou once wrote, 'I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.' This means continuing to cultivate an employee environment where service is paramount within the culture, and every opportunity to interact with customers is another chance to create a moment of truth.

Q: What are some of the untapped opportunities to improve patient experience today?

LD: Healthcare is a metric-driven industry, and I believe any time we can balance our focus on statistics and analytics with a focus on the customer — understanding their needs, hearing their voice, making connections — it's a win.

We believe successful patient experience requires a dual focus: employees and the patients they serve. So, on point one, we continue to grow our employee recognition programs because we know engaged employees naturally lead to engaged patients. We want to cultivate a culture of service so that every employee, whether physician, nurse, housekeeper, biller, etcetera, is always focused on providing the very best customer interaction.

Then, we turn our attention to the other prong of focus: patients and their families. Every quarter, we collect all customer satisfaction surveys/data points and review every customer comment. We create ongoing action plans based on the voice of the customer. The most important part of continuing to evolve as a service-based healthcare organization is to see patient experience as a journey, not a goal that can be met and left in the rearview mirror.

Q: How do you see the role of the chief experience officer evolving in the healthcare field over the next five years?

LD: I know that more healthcare organizations will value the role of chief experience officer and will see it as critical as a CMO or CFO.

The best chief/patient experience officers know success is about taking a balanced approach to high performance and quality, service as well as cost structure. Additionally, it's important to align the service promise with the brand promise. At Saint Peter's, I am also the vice president of marketing/communications. When we say to our community, 'Treating You Better ... For Life,' it cannot be an empty promise, so we must offer that level of service. In fact, our HCAHPS outcomes show that consistently delivering our brand promise ensures the highest level of patient loyalty.

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