Sean Keyser's job is to gauge how people feel.
He's not a psychiatrist or New Age guru. He's the vice president of patient experience at Novant Health. And if the concept of an executive-level position at a major health system devoted to people's feelings seems unusual, well, get used to it. And quickly.
Consumer engagement – some call it patient engagement, others frown at that moniker – is an up-and-coming concept. Driven in part by the surge in consumer-directed healthcare and evolving federal guidelines that tie patient satisfaction to bigger reimbursements, more and more healthcare providers are taking a keen interest in how consumers feel.
"We're looking at so many things beyond just clinical care," says Keyser, who's held this role for some 10 years at the North Carolina-based, 15-hospital system and moved up to the VP level two years ago. "Today's healthcare consumer is making decisions based on a framework that's different from the past."
That's the key: Today's healthcare consumer has choices, and today's healthcare provider has to take that into account. People who are unhappy with the quality of their care will go elsewhere, and will tell others about it (a significant burden in this age of social media).
And then there's HCAHPS. Five years ago, few people in healthcare knew what a Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems score was; now everyone understands that it could mean the difference between a health system in the black and one struggling to make ends meet.
So what does it take to keep consumers happy? Better communications, primarily. That can mean anything from access to online scheduling tools, health records and other information (medication management, pricing and insurance, for example) to real-time connections with the health system.
There are now more than 50 chief experience officers in health systems across the country, and several hundred more who aren't at the C-suite level, according to Vocera Communications, which recently issued its 2015 Chief Experience Officer Survey. Aside from tracking consumer engagement, the CXO also studies "experience improvement," or strategies that help healthcare providers improve their own job performance and communication skills.
“Consumerism has been on the horizon for quite some time in healthcare, and now it is here. Providers are seeing the shift and recognizing patients as consumers. Patients have choices of where they go for healthcare and expect the same level of experience they receive from other industries,” Elizabeth Boehm, director of Vocera's Experience Innovation Network, said in a press release.
It's a culture change inside and outside the healthcare setting that relies heavily on mHealth tools, say Vocera executives.
"The idea is to restore the humanity to healthcare," says Bridget Duffy, MD, who co-founded the Experience Innovation Network and is generally regarded as the industry's first chief experience officer during her time with the Cleveland Clinic.
In its report, titled "The Evolving Role of the Chief Healthcare Experience Officer," Vocera found that close to 60 percent of CXOs surveyed are or will soon be using "experience data," ranging from patient satisfaction surveys to data collected from the patient via mobile devices.
“A significant part of my time is spent looking at technology. It is really important," Cathey Harmer, System Director of Experience for Main Line Health, explained in the survey. "We are very close to putting in an iPad-based video remote interpretation service for 24/7 access to language support. I want a bedside system to provide feedback and education, plus provide education post discharge. That is huge.”