Checking in with Cleveland Clinic’s Chief Experience Officer

Gienna Shaw, for HealthLeaders Media, July 23, 2008

When I last interviewed Bridget Duffy, MD, she was just getting settled into her new job as Cleveland Clinic's chief experience officer. She's been busy since then, expanding the clinic's focus on the patient experience and customer satisfaction by launching new programs, creating new positions, and making sure patients' and families' voices are heard.

The role of chief experience officer wasn't just a new position for Duffy—it was a new position for the healthcare industry. By all accounts, Cleveland Clinic was the first hospital to hire a "second CEO."

There were a few bumps along the road in those early days. "I was met with some cynicism and skepticism at this organization," she told me back then [Cleveland Clinic's 'Other CEO', September 26, 2007]. "I think if all this role does is put apples in a basket in the emergency department or wireless remotes in waiting rooms, then people should be skeptical."

Top down support helped in those early days, especially from Toby M. Cosgrove, MD, the clinic's CEO and president, who championed the idea. "That has helped pave the way quite a bit for me," she said at the time.

Since then, Duffy has led the charge to implement several new patient experience initiatives at the clinic's institutes and hospitals.

The more people involved, it turns out, the merrier the patient. So she's appointed institute-level experience officers, organized patient and family advisory councils at hospitals and within departments, and has started to change the culture at the clinic to ensure that all employees are empowered to give patients the best possible experience.

"Every single employee owns the patient experience," Duffy says.

Duffy has some tips for anyone who's thinking about adding a new seat at the C-suite table. Among them—make sure that seat's a sturdy one. You must lay a solid infrastructure to sustain any initiatives you implement, she says—a quick fix won't work.

Based on the number of calls and e-mails I've received since that first column ran, more than one organization is investigating ways to differentiate on patient satisfaction. Duffy, too, says she's been "inundated" with requests for information from leaders at hospitals and health systems across the country.

"It's fascinating, the level of interest" in the patient experience and the chief experience officer position, Duffy says. "I think you are going to see a trend across this country of organizations appointing leadership teams . . . to make this a high priority."

Is your hospital or health system trying to get out ahead of this trend to differentiate on service? If you wait until your competitors make a move, it might be too late.

Gienna Shaw is an editor with HealthLeaders magazine. She can be reached at
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