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Does Your Clinical Trial Need a Chief Patient Experience Officer?

There has been a significant shift in the clinical research industry towards delivering an enhanced patient experience. The underlying premise is to put the patient first and the design of studies and delivery of treatment will follow. “Patient experience is the sum of all interactions, shaped by an organization's culture, that influence patient perceptions across the continuum of care,” explains Jason Wolf, Ph.D., Beryl Institute president and founding editor of the Patient Experience Journal.

We explore the importance of an enhanced patient experience and the role that a chief patient experience officer (CXO) plays in delivering it.

Patient Experience Is About Feelings

The patient experience is not about ease of access or wait times, although these matter, of course. Rather, it’s about how patients feel. Thomas H. Lee, chief medical officer at healthcare solutions provider Press Ganey, says patients need peace of mind and to feel that researchers and healthcare providers are doing their best to provide treatment. They want to feel that their medical teams are working cohesively. And they can tell if this is not the case.

Lee says the ‘feelings’ referred to above are measurable outcomes, which are made up of doing all that’s possible to make patients feel better about their healthcare journey. Consider patients with Parkinson’s Disease, for example. While medical teams won’t restore their health, they can make them feel like they are cared about and that treatments are being explored to help them better manage their conditions.

Patient Experience: Revenue, Reputation and Results

The Affordable Care Act has linked hospital Medicare payments to patient experience. Although not essential to clinical trials, it does highlight a bigger message: If you fail to provide a positive patient experience, you will experience losses. These can be financial, reputational or in the case of studies, attrition of patients. 

Patty Riskind at experience assessment platform Qualtrics, argues that the patient experience is critical to any long-term success of a healthcare organization. In fact, the importance of the patient experience has driven the need to have a specific C-Suite role designed to oversee it.

From Treating Patients to Treating Customers

The patient experience is linked to the notion of treating the patient as a customer. Historically, medical organizations have not always adopted this approach, says Louis Dias, chief patient officer at medical device company Medtronic Diabetes. Indeed, his role was created to ensure the company was not only great at medical devices but at being an effective consumer company too.

“My role is to balance saving peoples lives with those additional [aspects] — insights, empathy and care,” Dias says. It includes focusing on how design, insights and relationships can be better geared towards customer needs.

chief patient experience officer

Find the Patient Voice Inside the Data

Electronic health records are powerful means of gathering patient data. But they don’t tell the whole story, according to Dr. Adrienne Boissy, chief experience officer at the Cleveland Clinic. Boissy refers to the notion of the iPatient, a data-driven concept lacking a core trait: It was not an actual human telling their story, but an EHR with that patient’s data points.

Boissy wants the future of EHRs to provide space for patients to articulate their stories. There should be a section in which patients can say, ‘This is what you should know about me.’ Doing so would provide clinicians with a far more holistic perspective of the patient — and be able to deliver an enhanced patient experience.

Patient Experience Relies on Employee Experience

For patients to feel supported by their medical teams, those teams need to work well together. They need good leaders, robust processes and excellent communication. Get this part right and the patient experience will follow, says Annie Laverty, CXO at Northumbria Healthcare Foundation Trust. 

“If you don’t invest in your staff, any positive changes in patient experience won’t be sustained,” she adds.

No doubt this is what Lisa Allen, Ph.D., the first CXO at Johns Hopkins Hospital, thought when she created her Connect, Partner and Reflect training model to improve employee and patient engagement. Allen met with various stakeholders including patients and their caregivers to find out what was important to them. The coaching model is founded on that feedback and Allen says the method is used for forming connections with anyone of the team, whether a physician, patient or staff member. 

Fundamentally important is forming a connection with patients. This of course means introducing oneself to the patient, explaining their role and how they intend to help the patient. But it’s also about being present and attentive. Creating a connection assures the patient that they are working with the medical teams on a shared agendas.

chief patient experience officer

Structure and Duties of a CXO

The patient experience is, first and foremost, about serving patients’ emotional and spiritual needs, along with improving their physical wellbeing, explains Liz Boehm, research director at the Experience Innovation Network. Indeed, she argues that these motivators are what really drive CXOs in their roles.

For the typical chief experience officer, Boehm says their days will be filled with theorizing and strategizing, team-building, data analysis and resolving grievances. But they are also interfacing with patients, determining what barriers prevent patients from having a great experience. 

CXOs will report to the CEO, CMO, COO and chief nursing officer to ensure that all leadership is aligned on delivering the best possible experience for patients. Aligning leadership and the work of care teams to deliver the patient experience is the primary role of the CXO, writes Rick Evans, SVP of patient services and CXO at New York-Presbyterian Hospital.

Evans says the ideal candidate for the role of chief experience officer is a strategic leader on the same level as the CEO or CHRO. In fact, all C-Suite roles should be working together to deliver their own objectives along with those of their colleagues. The CXO, then, will be focused employee engagement, rolling out technology and evolving care models. But assessing all of these points under the umbrella of patient experience. 

Get the structure right and everything else will follow, Evans notes, although there are a few additional areas in which CXOs can make an impact. These include improving workflow and communications within and between teams, as well as patients and caregivers.

Benefits of a CXO with Clinical Expertise

The range of duties of a CXO is broad and they may struggle sometimes to convince clinical colleagues about the relationship between non-clinical matters, such as parking and hospital food, and patient experience. 

A useful way to bridge this divide is to appoint a CXO with clinical expertise. Dr. Leslie Jurecko, senior vice president of quality, safety and experience at Spectrum Health, says chief experience officers need peer respect in order for physicians and care teams to buy into patient experience initiatives.

She notes that the CXO can use data to justify the connection between non-clinical factors and improved patient experience to convince colleagues of their importance. 

Patients who feel engaged, supported and appreciated tend to enjoy a better patient experience. This can be at the level of care at a doctor’s office, a hospital or in a clinical trial setting. Indeed, engaged patients are less likely to drop out of a study, so focusing on patient experience can be significant for robust trial results.

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