Nursing Leadership: The Rise of the Chief Experience Officer

The expanding accountability for patient satisfaction is creating a need for new executive leadership roles

By now, most health care workers employed by hospitals are aware of the growing emphasis on patient experience – the consumer’s perceptions of a hospital stay. A tool called the Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS) is measuring the level of patient satisfaction in areas that include hospital cleanliness, staff responsiveness, pain management, and discharge planning. The collected data is available to the public and is used in determining Medicare reimbursement to hospitals.

This expanding accountability for patient satisfaction is creating a need for new leadership roles, as high-level executives realize the need to “operationalize” the patient experience mission. The idea is that strong leadership can actually change hospital culture so that all employees feel a responsibility for the patient’s experience – all the way from doctors and nurses to food service workers, housekeepers, and maintenance staff.

Leaders who understand the strategic value of outstanding and compassionate care can provide tools to identify areas in need of improvement, and can encourage hospital staff to actively act on opportunities to improve. This commitment to strong leadership in the area of patient experience has inspired the Cleveland Clinic to become the first major medical center to appoint a chief experience officer, often abbreviated as CXO.

A recent survey by Health Leaders Media shows that even hospitals without a CXO are aware of the need for a renewed focus on patient experience. The poll found that 74 percent of respondents expect to focus on patient experience training over the next three years.

The question of who should provide primary leadership for the patient experience mission, however, has yet to be answered definitively. Among those surveyed, 21 percent said that a multi-disciplinary team should have responsibility for patient experience and 15 percent said that clinical staff (nurses and doctors) holds primary responsibility.  Perhaps not surprisingly, 18 percent said that the chief nursing officer (CNO) should take responsibility for patient experience.

In many ways it makes sense to make the CXO an offshoot of the CNO position. Nursing executives already oversee the largest segment of the hospital workforce – the frontline caregivers who are in the best position to directly influence the patient experience. There’s no doubt that courteous housekeepers, pharmacists, and lab technicians also contribute to patient satisfaction and that the patient experience initiative must reach throughout the entire facility. Yet nurses have always taken pride in providing a safe and empathetic hospital experience for patients who may be scared, confused, or in pain. It is their special expertise, and they are well poised to guide the way. There is now a tremendous opportunity to use longstanding nursing principles – like compassionate care and patient advocacy – to guide the entire organization. And, most importantly, there now exists the opportunity to do this with the complete buy-in of other high-level hospital executives, since patient satisfaction as measured through HCAHPS contributes to the bottom line.

As the health care industry continues to evolve, roles like the chief experience officer will become paramount. This new position of CXO offers tremendous opportunities for nurses already in CNO positions or hoping to move into executive leadership. Can you see yourself in such a role? An article from Hospitals & Health Networks recently featured five CXOs, allowing them to share their thoughts about their jobs. A common thread seems to be their use of strategic planning, cultural transformation, and people-centric analytical skills to influence the patient experience. American Sentinel knows that nurse executives will require advanced education that fosters these types of leadership skills, and has designed its DNP Executive Leadership program accordingly.

Nurse executives who earn advanced degrees will broaden their current knowledge, gaining evaluation and policy-making skills that are directly applicable to today’s work environment. And nurses in mid-management positions who would like to move into the executive suite should consider earning a degree designed to help them meet the demand of today’s health leaders. The American Sentinel DNP Executive Leadership program prepares nurses to move into executive leadership roles and to meet the demands of a rapidly changing health care industry.


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