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HL20: James Merlino, MD, FACS, FASCRS—A Passion for Patient Experience

Jacqueline Fellows, for HealthLeaders Media, November 22, 2013

"The nurses didn't consistently round on him. His doctor didn't round on him. The communication with the family was terrible," says Merlino, who struggled with the decision to leave because he trained for his specialty in colorectal surgery at the hospital and considered it an honor to be there.

The experience on the other side of healthcare opened his eyes wide. Those five days, he says, redefined how he thought about taking care of patients.

"What I recognized pretty quickly was that we ignored the human side. We ignored the patient. We ignored the family," he says. "We spend hours and hours and lots of money on how to be at the top of our game in healthcare—nurses and physicians are doing continuing education, learning how medicine is evolving—but we spend nearly zero time on how we deliver that care."

Merlino says he returned to the Cleveland Clinic after a five-year hiatus because CEO Delos "Toby" Cosgrove, MD, assumed his title in 2005 and put a renewed focus on patient experience. Merlino says he and Cosgrove were unsure what patient experience meant, but they were both dedicated to making it a priority, something Merlino says is a must to move the needle at any hospital.

"There has to be passion around it," Cosgrove says of improving patient experience. "It's got to be a strategic priority. You have to put it front and center of everything you do in the organization. In terms of who leads it, it's got to come from the top person. It's not a nursing problem; it's not an operations problem. Anything you're doing to develop the culture has to be led by the top people otherwise it won't get the billing it deserves."

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