Earlier this week, I had the privilege of speaking at the Patient Experience Empathy And Innovation Summit. The event was sponsored by the Cleveland Clinic Office of Patient Experience, which is led by Dr. Jim Merlino, the chief experience officer at the Clinic.

To be candid, I originally agreed to give the speech as a favor to Jim, whose inspirational story kicks off the chapter on chief customer officers in our upcoming book. I didn’t know what to expect of the event and somehow imagined that when I joined hundreds of doctors, nurses, and other caregivers in a big auditorium, I’d get trapped inside an episode of House — and I’d be the only one who didn’t know what the other cast members were talking about.

Was I ever wrong. The event was an extraordinary experience from beginning to end, and the content was accessible to anyone who works to improve customer experience, regardless of industry. As someone who helps put on Forrester's Customer Experience Forum, I even got a little envious.

A few things leapt out at me from the sessions I attended:

  • Executive-level commitment to customer experience as a business strategy. Dr. Delos “Toby” Cosgrove, CEO of Cleveland Clinic, and Dr. Kurt Newman, CEO of Children’s National Medical Center, appeared together on a panel. It was clear from their answers to moderator and audience questions that both of them connect the dots between high-quality patient experience and the bottom line.
  • A willingness to shake up the culture. When asked where the greatest resistance to change came from, Dr. Cosgrove immediately responded, “The physicians!” That got laughs and applause. One of the changes he made to the cultural norm was to reassign the reserved parking spaces near the front of his facilities. Now they’re for patients, not doctors. When he made the change, one of the doctors complained, “What is this, patients first and doctors last?” Not only did Cosgrove agree that that’s what it was, he adopted “Patients First” as the Clinic’s guiding principle.
  • Customers front and center. Two of the best sessions of the event featured patients describing their experiences. In one, Doug Lyons described his experience getting a heart transplant in 1987 and a kidney transplant in 1997; his wife’s experience as a breast cancer survivor; and his son’s experience receiving a heart transplant in 2011. He got perhaps the most enthusiastic standing ovation I’ve ever seen when he concluded by bringing his entire family onstage. An auditorium full of distinguished medical professionals, and the star was a patient — go figure.
  • Openness to lessons learned from other industries. Healthcare professionals have a reputation for being insular, but these speakers and attendees were far from it. For example, Ioan Duca, service excellence officer at University of Toledo Medical Center, urged his audience to bring hospitality back into the hospital environment, quoting The Ritz-Carlton motto, “We are ladies and gentleman serving ladies and gentlemen.”
  • The rise of the chief customer officer. Including Jim Merlino, I spotted half a dozen speakers who were CCOs or equivalents. That’s pretty impressive given that chief customer officers are still an emerging trend and the healthcare industry isn’t typically perceived as a leader in customer experience.

I could go on, but you get the drift. Big changes are coming to healthcare, driven by industry leaders who adopt an outside-in perspective to patient experience.