Cleveland Clinic Patient Experience & Empathy Conference

Posted by Amy Gleason

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May 29, 2014 12:00:00 PM

Last week, I had the opportunity to attend the Cleveland Clinic Patient Experience and Empathy Conference, in Cleveland, Ohio. I have to admit, while I was thrilled about the conference, I wasn't excited about the location. My only prior experience with Cleveland was a business trip, but I was pleasantly surprised by the downtown area, and the views of the sunset over Lake Erie were spectacular!


The conference began on Sunday, with record numbers. There were 2,101 people from 49 states and 39 countries! The most powerful message came from the When Caregivers Become Patients video made by the Cleveland Clinic. It's almost impossible to convey its power, although, I still believe their first video, Empathy remains the most powerful one I've ever seen. If you haven't watched them yet, grab your tissues and check them out.

Some of my favorite quotes from the day include:

  • "77% of consumers search for health information online." - PEW Research
  • "Last year, 30 billion health searches happened." - David Blair
  • "The CEO is critical to making patient experience happen." - Jim Merlino
  • "Patient experience must come from the heart, it cannot be measured by ROI." - Toby Cosgrove
  • "I have Open Table. Why don't I have "Open Doctor" yet?" - audience member

Tuesday was kicked off with a CEO panel that discussed how patient experience starts at the top. They were great at talking about significant changes that happened when they truly put the patient first. It seemed that all of them truly cared about the patient experience.

My fantastic daughter, Morgan Gleason, no bias here, went next, and talked about her ideas for improving patient experience.


Her main ideas include:

  • Always ask the patient what they want.
  • Don't make the patient feel badly for asking what they want, or for asking questions.
  • Teach patients how to be patients. "Doctors go to medical school to become doctors, but patients don't go to patient school to be patients."

I was so very proud to see Morgan be brave enough to get up in front of 2,100 people and share her story.

Another powerful story came from Julie, who talked about her son Daniel. Daniel had many health challenges in his short life, but his mom played a truly significant role in his life and his healthcare. She had a nurse who let her stay with him while he was in the ICU. Then, when Daniel needed CPR, she was able to be there. I am not entirely sure I have this quote exactly right, but I've been thinking about it ever since.

"If that nurse had not allowed me in, I wouldn't have been there for my son at the most important time of his life."

Hugs to Julie...I am so sorry for your loss, but I know you were an amazing support for Daniel.


Micah Soloman said "Make sure the beginnings and endings of your experience are good." I thought this to be a valid point, as these are the times that expectations are higher. A good experience can really be blown up by a screw up at the beginning or end.

We had one of the co-founders of Zappos, Jenn Lim, speak about finding your happiness and creating happy employees. Her main message is that we should find what makes us happy, and that we, as a society, are really bad at predicting happiness. She also talked about the significance that happy employees have on the bottom line, and that, as employers, we should encourage our own individual weirdness at work. She also showed the biggest shoe warehouse picture I have ever seen.


She encouraged everybody to complete a heartbeat map exercise where you examine your highs and lows in life. It seemed really interesting!

Steward Gandolf spoke about his mom's care experience, and how he had to ask questions that he felt nurses and doctors should have addressed without him needing to ask. He had to ask for things like incentive spirometers, and then his mom still got pneumonia because the staff didn't really make it seem like a priority. He raised the point that people don't know how to go to the Medicare website to look up information on doctors. He said we have to meet patients where they can't let them see a rat in the parking lot, or blood from another patient.

On Tuesday, my favorite session was Continuous Improvement. Who knew that Six Sigma and continuous improvement could be interesting!? They showed examples of the day where nurses met daily in the hall to review issues and create solutions. Solutions FROM the nurses, and not the manager. The same technique was applied to a problem: "How do we make sure this never happens again?" The manager should prompt and encourage answers, but should not give the answer.

Some of the other things from Tuesday included Pat Rullo, who gave a fantastic talk highlighting her mom's poor healthcare experience. She talked about how the doctor danced into the door each day, because her mom was a dancer. It meant a lot to them. However, she was in the hosptial for so long due to gross errors, that the overall experience was not positive. Pat now has a radio show called "Speak Up and Stay Alive."

We also leared that 62% of patients pick their doctor based on their location. Amazing.

On Wednesday, my favorite speaker was Gerald van Grinsven from CTCA. He was incredible. He said that he first told his doctors that he wanted them to be the Cirque du Soleil of healthcare...but that didn't go over very well. Next, he suggested wearing his pajamas and staying on the floor with the patients. Eventually, he decided to eat dinner with them, because it's difficult to not share your true thoughts when you are breaking bread with someone. I was truly shocked to learn that they even have weddings in one of their hospitals, because it doesn't even feel like a hospital. Which makes sense...he worked for the Ritz Carlton before healthcare, and he recognizes that we need to focus on the (often unexpressed) needs of the patients.

Wrapping up, we met Dr. Rosen from Nemours, who makes sure his new patients get seen within five days, and more often than not, in the same calendar week. They also put their physician's email addresses on the business cards. These are great examples of how seemingly little things can really make a big difference when it comes to patient experience.

Overall, the conference was fantastic. It was so encouraging to see so many people interested in making the experience better for the patients. So, with that...thank you, Cleveland Clinic for putting on such a significant, excellent conference, and for building such a great learning environment.

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