Savides, who maintains his practice as an interventional gastrologist, works in a management dyad with Julie Kennedy Oehlert, the health system’s chief administrative officer for ambulatory services. Oehlert, whose job title includes associate chief experience officer, is in second management dyad with the dean of clinical affairs. That structure ensures that physicians, administrative staff and clinical staff are all led by a senior executive responsible for the experience strategy.

Because this is new for the system, the work started with a multi-day “experience immersion” retreat for the executive team, followed by visits to San Diego-area businesses outside the health care field — Apple Computer, Whole Foods, local retailers and others. “That gave us a deep dive into how they look at experience from the customer’s perspective, as well as from a team member’s perspective,” Savides says.

The emphasis on experience is being embedded into policies and procedures throughout the organization, with representatives from all departments linked to the Office of Experience Transformation in some way. Meanwhile, the “experience immersion” is now cascading through the organization, with top executives facilitating the sessions.

Staff are being introduced to tools to support a good patient experience, but the more important task is inspiring all staff to see their work in a new way. “This is more of a cultural transformation than a training methodology,” Savides says. “We’re showing how to provide hospitality under any circumstance, doing the right thing at the right time for the right patient without it being a taught thing.”

A View From the Front

At Cleveland Clinic, which pioneered the concept of “chief experience officer” nearly a decade ago, CXO Adrienne Boissy, M.D., says patient satisfaction is just a small part of patient experience. “Patients will never have an exceptional experience with us if we don’t deliver safe, high-quality care,” says Boissy, a neurologist and the third executive to serve in the CXO role.

To that end, the CXO position resides in Cleveland Clinic’s Office of Clinical Transformation along with the top executives in charge of quality, safety, population management and value. “The way we think about things moving forward is that all of these are connected,” Boissy says.

The CXO job title is gaining traction in the industry, but the focus on patient experience is so new that best practices, job descriptions and even definitions are not yet settled ground. Boissy’s advice: “Make sure you have a definition because everybody thinks patient experience is something different. And without agreeing on what it is, we will never achieve it.”

Patient experience directly reflects an organization’s culture, so no improvements can be made without taking that into consideration. Boissy encourages health care executives that are planning to appoint a CXO — as well as CXOs stepping into the role — to take time to understand the culture before initiating changes.

“There’s no better way to do that than spending some quality time on the front line,” she says. “Before we sweep in with any programs, there has to be time invested in getting to understand what it’s really like to provide care at your organization.”

Because the chief experience officer is a new position in many organizations, top leaders must be clear on exactly how the CXO can succeed. “If there are multiple layers of management above you, that’s going to be very limiting,” Boissy says. “And if you’re not set up with enough support to actually make things happen, you’ll be held accountable for change that you weren’t empowered to make.”

Her last tip is to know what good patient experience looks like and how the entire health system can deliver on it. “My dream state, in 10 years, is that every single caregiver is a chief experience officer,” she says. “And that there’s enough ownership and empowerment in every single caregiver that you don’t need somebody to occupy this role.”