James Merlino, MD

[Podcast] For a large healthcare system or any hospital for that matter, success with “patient experience” is far deeper than “making the patient happy.” Take it from Cleveland Clinic, the first healthcare organization in the United States to appoint a Chief Experience Officer. “It’s not just about satisfaction. This is about how we deliver quality care.”

What’s more, the prestigious Cleveland Clinic will gladly explain how they see patient experience. “The way we all get better is by sharing information,” Dr. James Merlino told us in this insightful conversation with Lonnie Hirsch. “We like to share what we’re doing, and we encourage others to share with the group so that we can all improve.”

(More about the importance of sharing, and the 4th Annual Cleveland Clinic Patient Experience: Empathy and Innovation Summit, follows below and in our recorded conversation with Dr. Merlino.)

“Our challenge is similar to a lot of challenges that a lot of healthcare organizations across the United States have, Dr. Merlino said. “Cleveland Clinic is a 91-year-old organization, and you can imagine that, as a healthcare organization, it is steeped in its traditions. So you’re talking about taking a legacy organization and developing a patient-centered culture.

“What does the patient experience mean and how does it affect everyone in the organization? One of the things we’ve done successfully is to define it.  At Cleveland Clinic, patient experience is not about patient satisfaction. In our organization we prioritize the patient experience as:

Number One: Delivering safe care;

Number Two: Delivering high quality care;

Number Three: Providing optimal experience and satisfaction; and

Number Four: Driving value and efficiency.

“So why is it important to prioritize like this? It’s because you don’t want to get into a situation where you are pushing people to improve the patient experience and they push back saying, ‘So you want me to pay more attention to making patients happy than my quality [of care].’

“[The answer is] it’s not about making patients happy over quality. It’s about safe care first, high quality care, and then satisfaction and experience. We want people to understand how it’s prioritized.”

Dr. Merlino, he goes on to explain: “Where major initiatives like [patient experience] often fail is when organizations can’t execute. So you have to have an ability to execute on the strategy.

“In our organization, the way we execute on improving the patient experience is to focus on:

  • Processes and things that we can implement that make a difference;
  • Aligning our people around a culture of service excellence;
  • Impacting patients to make them better partners so they can help us deliver better care.

“By defining it and by articulating an execution strategy, we’ve been able to overcome a lot of the challenges we’ve seen in the organization.”

Listen to the interview for more about Patient Experience at Cleveland Clinic…

Chief Experience Officer Dr. James Merlino is also a practicing staff colorectal surgeon in Cleveland Clinic’s Digestive Disease Institute. In the following podcast interview, he provides a brief background—as well as some of the challenges and solutions—in the strategic initiative of creating a patient- and family centered environment.

He also explains how the concept is infused in the organization’s culture, how patient experience is measured, physician communications training, and the success that Cleveland Clinic has achieved. Throughout our talk, it’s apparent that the organization is passionate about patient experience and achieving patient satisfaction.

For Dr. Merlino and Cleveland Clinic, a vitally important task is to share the knowledge and information among other facilities and providers. One means to do this is via the 4th annual Cleveland Clinic Patient Experience: Empathy and Innovation Summit to be held in Cleveland from May 19-21.

“This is the largest, non-aligned, independent patient experience summit in the world, so we’re proud of that,” Dr. Merlino told us. “Last year we had 874 people attend from outside the Clinic that represented 38 states and 24 countries. It’s a broad spectrum of healthcare leaders who are responsible for improving the patient experience in their organization.

What we try to do is to bring topics [to the agenda] that will help people improve. We want our speakers to come in and talk about what they’re doing, how they did it, how others can do it, and why they think it will be successful.

“Patient experience impacts all of us, and the only way healthcare organizations can get better is to share their information so we can all improve together.”

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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.

Cleveland Clinic is hosting the 4th Annual Patient Experience: Empathy and Innovation Summit in Cleveland from May 19-21, 2013. Program information and additional details are available online here.

Stewart Gandolf

Stewart Gandolf

Chief Executive Officer and Co-Founder at Healthcare Success Strategies
Stewart Gandolf, MBA, is CEO of Healthcare Success, a medical marketing and health care advertising agency. He is also a frequent writer and speaker. Most importantly, he is happily married and a "rock-n-roll daddy" to two wonderful girls.
Stewart Gandolf
Stewart Gandolf


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