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The Cleveland Clinic Story

Until recently, Cleveland Clinic was almost exclusively known for its clinical excellence. As a major academic medical center with 43,000 employees, nine hospitals, multiple family health centers and international facilities it had a ninety year history of outstanding clinical outcomes. While impressive medically, Cleveland Clinic was regularly criticized for its lack of emphasis on other key elements of an optimal healthcare environment: empathy and customer service.

Delos “Toby” Cosgrove, MD, President and CEO of Cleveland Clinic, often shares the story of being summoned to a surgical patient’s room where family members told him to look under the bed. He found two things: “Dust bunnies and an empty IV bag. Their whole experience of heart surgery was ruined by those two things.” The room did not meet Cleveland Clinic service standards. “Any one individual who comes in contact with a patient can ruin the entire experience and flavor the whole impression of this organization,” he added. The operation was a success, but the patient’s family was furious.

In 2008, Dr. Cosgrove embarked on a mission to make Cleveland Clinic the healthcare leader in service excellence and patient experience. To kick it off, he initiated a new Cleveland Clinic mantra: Patients First. He then appointed the first Chief Experience Officer (CXO) in U.S. healthcare, and created an Office of Patient Experience to expedite change. CXO James Merlino, MD, leads the Office of Patient Experience and oversees programs and initiatives designed to enhance patient experience, boost Cleveland Clinic’s HCAHPS scores, and drive a culture of service excellence. The office’s mission is “to ensure consistent, patient-centered care by partnering with caregivers to exceed the expectations of patients and families.”

One of the first initiatives taken by the Office of Patient Experience was development of a Service Excellence team. This team was tasked with identifying opportunities to improve service delivery through development a sustainable model. Communicate with H.E.A.R.T.SM, a customizable service excellence model, created by healthcare for healthcare, is the result.

The path to service excellence is not easy, but as healthcare organizations across the globe would agree, it is imperative to creating the optimal environment for healing. Cleveland Clinic is pleased to share this story and the tools we have used in our organization’s successful transition to a patient-centric culture and becoming recognized as a leader in patient experience.