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Sneak Peak At An Upcoming Book By The Leading Voice In Patient Experience

Harley Manning
Harley Manning
Vice President, Research Director
August 20, 2014

Recently Dr. James Merlino, Chief Experience Officer at Cleveland Clinic, sent me a late-stage draft of his new book, “Service Fanatics: How to Build Superior Patient Experience the Cleveland Clinic Way.” I started reading it over the weekend and could barely bring myself to put it down.

If you’re at all like me, you have books you read for your job, and books you read for pleasure: This book ticks both of those boxes. It’s an important work by the leading voice in patient experience. It’s also a gripping personal narrative that changed my perspective on every doctor-patient interaction I’ve had in my life.

Have you ever had a doctor patronize you – dismiss your questions and concerns as if you’re an appointment that needs to be completed as quickly as possible – and not a person? Or maybe you’ve had the opposite experience: a doctor who made you feel heard and cared for. 

More importantly, have you ever wondered why there’s such a big difference in your patient experience from one physician or nurse to the next? You won’t wonder any more after reading this book. And you’ll also know what can be done to make patient experience consistently better across the entire medical profession.

Now in the interests of full disclosure I should tell you that I know Jim Merlino, and I even wrote a case study about his work for the book I co-authored, Outside In. He is a practicing surgeon and the executive in charge of patient experience at one of the largest and most well-respected healthcare organizations in the US as well as the founder of a non-profit dedicated to improving and advancing patient experience.

It doesn’t get more real than that, which is just one of main reasons you need to read his book when it becomes available.

Service Fanatics reveals how medical practitioners get to be the way they are, for good or ill, when it comes to patient experience. It does this through personal narrative and examples that kept making me say “Whoa!” as I stopped to highlight passages in the book. For example, while he was a resident in training, one doctor advised Merlino that if the family member of a patient touched his arm he should stop talking and stare at her until she removed her hand. (That example made me sputter so hard that my wife thought I was having a fit.)

At its heart, however, the book’s message is that it doesn’t have to be this way. Caregivers can go far beyond treating your condition, interacting with you as a human being with a mind and a heart and a soul.

Which is not to say that the book paints a rosy picture of the transformation process. Service Fanatics is upfront about just how hard it is to change a culture so that it becomes truly customer-centric – then tells you how you can do it anyway. Merlino describes the challenges at Cleveland Clinic with an unsentimental eye, and he also provides detailed descriptions of what the leadership team did to overcome those challenges.

For example, non-clinical executives at the clinic – including their CFO – regularly go on rounds with doctors to visit patients. That helps execs understand how the things they do affect the patient experience, redrawing typical front office/back office boundaries that cause so many customer interactions to fail (a concept that Forrester refers to as aligning the customer experience ecosystem). And it’s a two-way street: When executives go on rounds, it shows frontline caregivers that their senior leaders understand – and care about – what they do every day.

This is a practice that’s been transformative at Cleveland Clinic – and it could be for your company, too. Just take out “rounding with doctors” and replace it with “visiting clients with sales reps” or “sitting in the call center double-jacked with a service rep” or “making service visits with a technician.”

Here’s another useful tactic from Service Fanatics that any organization can use. Merlino randomly asks employees, “Why are you here?” The number who give an answer related to the clinic’s Patients First philosophy – the purpose of the organization – provides a cheap and cheerful barometer of how well that purpose has become ingrained in the culture.

I won’t create any spoilers by telling you stories of how Merlino tested out (and continues to test) the “why are you here?” question at other organizations, including many that are famed for their customer experience. It’s too much fun to read his anecdotes for yourself – especially the times he’s done it in front of execs from those companies.

All in all, Service Fanatics is a great read that’s also making me smarter about patient experience. If only all business books could bring those two elements together.

Service Fanatics: How to Build Superior Patient Experience the Cleveland Clinic Way is expected to be on sale October 31, 2014.

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