In our annual HealthLeaders 20, we profile individuals who are changing healthcare for the better. Some are longtime industry fixtures; others would clearly be considered outsiders. Some are revered; others would not win many popularity contests. All of them are playing a crucial role in making the healthcare industry better. This is the story of James Merlino, MD, FACS, FASCRS.
This profile was published in the December, 2013 issue of HealthLeaders magazine.
"We spend hours and hours and lots of money on how to be at the top of our game in healthcare—nurses and physicians are doing continuing education, learning how medicine is evolving—but we spend nearly zero time on how we deliver that care."
Today, James Merlino, MD, FACS, FASCRS, is a go-to leader for hospitals and health systems looking for advice on how to improve their patients' experiences. In addition to his position as chief experience officer for the Cleveland Clinic, he also serves as president and founder of the board for the Association for Patient Experience, an independent nonprofit organization that grew out of discussions at the first Patient Experience Summit sponsored by Cleveland Clinic in 2010 and was established to support healthcare professionals, patients, and their families by improving the patient experience.
He has been at the helm of rethinking and redefining patient experience for the nonprofit academic medical center since 2009. But, initially, it was a job he didn't want, in a hospital he never wanted to step foot in again.
In the summer of 2005, Merlino walked out of the Cleveland Clinic after finishing his fellowship believing the world-renowned hospital was "the worst place in the world for patients." Six months earlier, Merlino's father had died there after a five-day stay related to an ambulatory procedure for bladder cancer. Merlino vowed never to return. Not because of the clinical care—complications that arose with his father's surgery were "nobody's fault," he says; rather, he was upset with the way his father was treated.