How To Hire A Patient Experience Officer

So I’m making dinner the other night and I’m reminded of a story I heard on NPR. The narrator and his wife were talking about their 50-year marriage. One of the stories the husband mentioned concerned his wife’s meatloaf. Their recipe for meatloaf was one they had learned from his wife’s mother. Over the years they had been served meatloaf at the home of his in-laws on several occasions, and on most of those occasions his wife would help her mom prepare the meatloaf.

Her mother would mix the ingredients in a large wooden bowl including the ground beef and ground pork, which were sold in one-pound packages. She’d knead the mixture together, shape into a loaf, and place the loaf into the one and a half pound baking pan, discarding the leftover mixture.

His wife always prepared the dish exactly as her mother. One day he asked her why she threw away the extra meatloaf instead of cooking it all. She replied she was simply following her mother’s recipe. The husband said, “The reason your mom throws away part of the meatloaf is because she doesn’t own a two-pound baking pan. We have a two-pound pan. You’ve been throwing it away all of these years and I’ve never known why until now.”

Therein is the dilemma. We get so used to doing things one way that we forget to question whether there may a better way to do the same thing.

Many health systems are taking a two-pound baking pan approach to hiring a patient experience (PX) officer. I think most health systems are looking for a ‘px’—lower case—patient experience officer, someone to manage and monitor HCAHPS.

But, if you happen to believe that patient experience begins before someone is admitted and lasts well after discharge a ‘px’ won’t be of much help.  If you happen to think patient experience is not just limited to patients, but also includes consumers (prospective patients), family members, caregivers, and referring physicians a ‘px’ won’t be of much help.

I believe that when it comes to hiring a ‘PX’—upper case—patient experience officer, and knowing what to do with a PX officer, a health system would be better served by paying more attention to the person’s knowledge of the ‘X’ and less attention to their knowledge of the ‘P’.  After all, your health system is chocked-full of people who understand the P-side, the clinical-side. I believe there are substantial benefits to hiring someone who is a customer experience thought leader and who has designed great experiences across a range of industries.

What most health systems need is someone who can help them envision and design a remarkable experience for every person every time on every device.

Health systems need a PX officer whose knowledge of consumer experience will cause the PX officer to fight hard to get the executive team to agree to implement a customer portal even though the system already paid for a patient portal. While that point may seem trivial to some, or seem like an excessive expenditure to others, it should be at the top of the PX officer’s to-do list.

And here is why. Your patient portal is of no value to anyone who is not a patient. Consumers, that big block of non-patients, cannot accomplish a single task. Take a second to think about your bank, and your online relationship with it. That online relationship, your entire relationship, exists in the bank’s customer portal. Chances are it took you a few hours to create your financial profile and to set up all of your vendors for automatic payment. Now that you’ve done that you carry your entire financial institution and your financial history around in your purse or back pocket. You never have to talk to your bank on the phone, never have to stand in a line to see a teller to deposit or withdraw money, never have to negotiate a mortgage face to face. No more stamps to buy.

And if another bank came to you offering free toasters to switch banks, you wouldn’t even consider it. You see the thing is that your bank made you believe that what they were doing was making things easy for you. What they really did was to make it easier for them to acquire customers and to retain them.

Health systems should look for a patient experience officer whose knowledge base comes from customer experience, someone who recognizes that the people in the cafeteria and the people in their church and the people in the grocery store are all healthcare consumers.

Health systems need someone who can create an easy button, someone who can make the experience of doing business with your system seem easy. There are two points overlooked by most health systems:

  • If your system cannot make it easy for a consumer to schedule an appointment by phone, that person will never be your patient
  • If people cannot conduct business with your health system using an effective and well-designed customer portal—like the one they use with their bank—they will soon change health systems

Hiring a patient experience officer is a good thing. Hiring the right patient experience officer is a better thing.

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