Stock image of a doctor holding a medical chart

In 2013, The New York Times published an online feature asking readers to distinguish between photos of rooms located in upscale hotels and those in hospitals. The story illustrated the healthcare industry’s burgeoning focus on patient experience and detailed some of the more noticeable — and arguably cosmetic — steps it was taking to improve hospital services.

But flat-screen TVs and lobby fountains can only do so much for patients. These superficial improvements eventually gave way to the proliferation of Offices of Patient Experience (OPX) at hospitals across the country. Designed to be independent, full-time resources dedicated solely to improving hospital stays for patients, OPXs have been created at some of the nation’s top facilities and leading healthcare networks.  

Do these offices actually improve patient experience? Are there certain conditions that make these offices more important in some hospital settings, and less so in others?

Fisher Management Sciences Professors Elliot Bendoly and Aravind Chandrasekaran, and Luv Sharma, of the University of South Carolina, provided some insights to those questions and more in a paper published by Production and Operations Management.

What is OPX?

An OPX is an independent entity in a hospital — separate from teams dedicated to improving patient quality and safety — that has its own budget, full-time staff and a responsibility for improving patient experience. OPX staff work with care providers to promote continuous training on topics such as empathy; they make rounds with doctors and nurses to provide feedback on patient communication; and, among many other duties, they promote coordination by mapping and streamlining patients’ healthcare journeys and their continuum of care.

What were the findings?

Sharma, who earned his PhD at Fisher and served as the lead researcher, Chandrasekaran and Bendoly tracked the operation of 3,615 acute care hospitals from 2007-14. They found that:

  • facilities with OPXs reported patient experiential quality scores that were 1.95 percent higher patient than facilities without an OPX, as measured by using the Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS) survey
  • OPXs improved efficiency by reducing operating costs by 1.4 percent for every year of operation

But not all hospitals are best served by creating an OPX, the researchers found. Teaching hospitals and those treating patients with complex and/or multiple illnesses or medical conditions were more effective at improving patient experience through an OPX.

Any additional insights?

Aside from the higher patient experiential quality scores attributed to facilities with OPXs, preliminary evidence from the research suggests that leadership of these offices matters, specifically the backgrounds of those selected to serve as Chief Patient Experience Officers (CXOs).

Offices led by CXOs with medical or nursing degrees may demonstrate greater improvement in patient experiential quality than those led by individuals with non-medical degrees, such as backgrounds in hospitality management.

“It’s very convenient for hospitals and administrators to bring in a champion from the customer service industry or from the hotel industry because they’re better at designing these systems,” Chandrasekaran said. “But we found that if a hospital’s OPX has a medical leader, it actually improves multifold compared to others. So it’s really important for hospitals to think through how to staff their Offices of Patient Experience.”

According to the researchers, common social identities between a CXO with medical experience and the doctors and nurses providing care and may decrease their resistance to measures designed to improve patient experience and ultimately improve communication with patients.

We found that if a hospital’s OPX has a medical leader, it actually improves multifold compared to others. So it’s really important for hospitals to think through how to staff their Offices of Patient Experience.

Aravind ChandrasekaranAssociate Professor of Operations

 

Elliot Bendoly Distinguished Professor of Management Sciences, Former Associate Dean of Undergraduate Students and Programs
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Aravind Chandrasekaran Associate Professor of Operations, Associate Director, Center for Operational Excellence, Academic Director, MBOE
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