Mar 11 2021

Q&A: How the Chief Experience Officer Role Is Evolving

UChicago Medicine's Susan Murphy tells HealthTech how this C-suite position ensures that patient perspectives stay central to healthcare strategy and decision-making.

The chief experience officer is a relatively new position, but it’s becoming important to the hospital and health system C-suite. Cleveland Clinic appointed the industry’s first CXO and created the first Office of Patient Experience in 2007. Ten years later, a Beryl Institute survey found that nearly 60 percent of organizations have a CXO in place — sometimes called a chief patient experience officer.

Despite its recent emergence, the CXO role has already undergone a shift in responsibility. Initially, patient experience efforts emphasized improvements to Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS) scores, which under the Affordable Care Act are directly linked to reimbursement rates. Along with addressing patient safety and care quality, the CXO dealt with issues unrelated to clinical care, such as parking, food, waiting room decor and hospital wayfinding.

Now, the position has evolved to also represent the patient voice in organizationwide initiatives forced on operational improvements and technology use.

“The scores are still important, but the change is not just chasing the scores,” says Susan Murphy, who has served as the chief experience and innovation officer at UChicago Medicine for the past seven years. “We’re trying to understand what patients are telling us through their feedback. It’s not just about whether we’re doing our work right. It’s having conversations with patients about their needs.”

Murphy has a background in nursing and, earlier in her career, worked with the Studer Group (now part of Huron Consulting) to develop frameworks for nursing leadership. In an interview with HealthTech, she discussed how the CXO role differs from other executive positions and how she is able to influence initiatives such as operational improvements and technology implementations.

HEALTHTECH: How does the CXO differ from other roles?

MURPHY: The CXO is shining a light on what care teams do every day, to show that the routine is remarkable. Being a nurse, I have the eye of the clinical team. I also have experience in cultivating culture, which I use to help create exceptional experiences for everyone, every day — patients as well as caregivers and their families.

I want everyone on our team to be enculturated into knowing that patients are our “true north,” and to be thinking about what we need to do to care for them. When leaders develop a strategic plan, I want them to always have the patients’ thoughts in their mind.

READ MORE: See how technology powers connections between patients and clinicians.

HEALTHTECH: What is your approach to process improvement?

MURPHY: My goal is to incorporate staff engagement and patient experience. I want to mentor our leaders, to help them understand the role they have in leading their teams through strength-based coaching.

For example, we were seeing long wait times in one of our blood labs, and it was having an impact downstream. We brought the staff together so the people who were doing the work would help create the solution.

We didn’t just focus on the problem. Yes, it was important to talk about cutting wait times, but we also highlighted the magnificent work that the blood lab does every day, and how fixing the process and developing a new strategy would help the lab do even more. Because we looked at the situation differently, the people who are most excited about the new process are the people doing the blood draws.

In the old days, we used to knock on people’s doors, sit down and tell them what to do. Now, we’re doing it differently, to shine a light on what they’re already doing well. We’re trying to make good behavior contagious.

HEALTHTECH: Where does patient experience extend beyond the four walls of the hospital?

MURPHY: One of the main things we focus on at UChicago Medicine is continuity of care — pre-care to intake to inpatient care to outpatient care. An important element of this is thinking about the patient as a consumer until they are in front of the caregiver in the hospital.

How can we use consumerism in a caring way to get them the care they need in various situations, or where they live? This shows that, as a health system, we care about a patient’s well-being, not just when they’re in the hospital.

Susan Murphy
We make sure we bring empathy to the experience and incorporate the human touch."

Susan Murphy chief experience and innovation officer, UChicago Medicine 

We also need to think about the continuum of care when we look at new services. One thing might work for pre-admission, but something else might work within the hospital and another thing might work at discharge. We need to put this in front of our patient and family advisory councils. Even though we’ve all been patients, where we stand is what we see. We rely on the voice of patients to help us make these decisions for the future role. We can’t implement new processes and assume that patients will understand them.

READ MORE: What does healthcare delivery in the new normal look like?

HEALTHTECH: How do you provide input on technology decisions?

MURPHY: It’s really about coordination. Whenever there’s a technology upgrade or we’re looking at something new, if it’s patient-facing, then we need to have a patient focus in our conversations. This relationship evolves through leadership, trust and training.

We also partner with IT and leadership to make sure that the technology we look at follows our three- to five-year strategic plan as an organization. That way, we focus on technology that is aligned with what we want to achieve.

HEALTHTECH: How do you ensure that new technology aligns with patients’ needs?

MURPHY: We make sure we bring empathy to the experience and incorporate the human touch. Logging in to MyChart to see your test results is different than placing an order on Amazon. We need to bring out empathy in genuine ways. We can use technology to advance healthcare, but healthcare still needs empathetic conversations.

Everyone who works in healthcare has a story, whether they’re frontline caregivers or administrators or supply chain managers. How can we continue to bring that to the work they do every day without losing it through the use of technology?

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