How emotional footprints drive patient experience culture at CHRISTUS Health
Other than patient satisfaction surveys, the healthcare industry hasn’t always been known for focusing on patient experience. But growing healthcare consumerism has highlighted the need for healthcare systems to ignite a strong patient experience culture – which naturally results in better business outcomes.
We interviewed Cristobal Kripper, M.D., M.P.H., the chief patient experience officer at CHRISTUS Health. From humble beginnings to leading an innovative patient experience team at one of the world’s top 10 Catholic healthcare systems, Cristobal offers a unique perspective on the transformation of patient experience in not only healthcare but other industries as well.
From rural Chile to Texas
Cristobal grew up in a small rural area of Chile. “The early part of my life was very beautiful, very peaceful. But we did not have a lot of technology,” he says. He went to medical school at Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile to pursue his dream of working in emergency medicine. He quickly moved up through the ranks, leading a residency program and working in the emergency medicine clinical setting.
In an interesting twist, Cristobal’s early work at the university medical school intersected with his volunteer work in Haiti, ultimately resulting in the medical school supporting the NGO in Haiti. He noted, “One of the opportunities I am most proud of is my volunteer work at medical clinics in Haiti. Those experiences transformed the way I thought about leadership.”
After practicing for four years at the university, he decided to move to the U.S. and attend UCLA where he could focus on healthcare administration. “I became obsessed with making things happen effectively,” he said. He then worked at Cedar Sinai in operations, but ultimately, his passion led him to CHRISTUS Health as CXO.
I never planned to stop practicing. I love clinical care. But these opportunities reaffirmed my passion for a role in patient experience.
On pivoting toward patient experience
“While in school, I heard a presentation by former UCLA Health System CEO Dr. David Feinberg about patient experience, and it really got me thinking,” Cristobal explained. He was already a follower of LEAN methodology and the focus on continuous improvement, respect, and empathy for people. “I realized how complex and multifactorial the patient experience landscape is and that it needs to be purposeful and meaningful.
“It’s the emotional footprint we leave on a patient that drives value,” he noted, “but I wanted to understand the experience not only from the survey perspective, but from the real perspective that goes beyond the survey.”
On building a culture of patient experience
While he won’t take credit for driving culture himself, Cristobal tries to influence CHRISTUS Health’s culture by emphasizing the narrative and the purpose of any patient experience initiative. “It shouldn’t be just some metric that we track to drive accountability. It needs to be connected to our mission, vision, and values; we need to build a story about the CHRISTUS experience,” he added. “If you don’t build a narrative about why this is important to our organization, we will never get there.”
We need to nurture our culture all the time. I try to focus attention on the purpose and the ‘why’ to build a story about the CHRISTUS experience.
Cristobal explains that patient experience is an outcome. “It is the way we experienced a service, the way we interacted with the multiple steps along the process,” he says. “But the most valuable piece is that emotional footprint that we leave on the people we serve. It’s that footprint that defines their perceived notion of value which ultimately drives their future behavior.
“That emotional footprint is the outcome that really matters. To get there, you must provide a good service in the moment, but there are many other signals as well,” he says, adding that it is a highly complex construct. “But if you think about it from that perspective, you identify what drives most of our decisions – rational or irrational – and our behavior.”
The emotional footprint we leave on our patients’ minds is a complex outcome that comprises many factors, but it has become very meaningful.
On thinking outside the box – and taking bold steps
CHRISTUS Health has been a leader in terms of expanding the vision of what patient experience means. “When we transitioned to Qualtrics, we wanted to make the leap from the traditional benchmarking approach from some of the other players in the marketplace,” says Cristobal.
“I am happy to say that, with the full support of our visionary leadership team, we are making the leap from focusing on percentile rankings and numbers to people and their stories.”
Making bold changes can be tough in an industry already undergoing massive transformations, according to Cristobal. “But if you convey your ‘why’ and persuade your team what the potential benefits can be, people want to be a part of the change. Some of our team members have spent their careers focused on metrics. But now that we are uncovering the stories behind the numbers, people are thanking us for being courageous and trying something different.”
The key differentiator with Qualtrics has been the ability to visualize patient stories in a new way. Cristobal explains, “Now we are much more intentional about the way we ask questions. Instead of simply asking for comments, we are now asking ‘why’ patients felt a certain way. And this brings us new insights and a whole lot of value.”
If you have the ability to amplify the voice of the patient, you cannot miss that opportunity.
On moving from measurement to action
Cristobal’s passion is about finding out what’s behind the numbers. “It’s not just about the metrics. We often forget that because we need to build accountability processes that are based on numbers. We can’t lose sight of the stories that come from those we serve, from our leaders, from our caregivers, and from our employees — innovation comes from interdisciplinary interactions.”
Making a move to this new patient experience paradigm can be a challenge for some leaders. “We get very comfortable with the status quo, and healthcare has been very resistant to change. But you will be surprised how people react when they understand the ‘why’ and they understand the value proposition,” Cristobal emphasizes. “If you communicate these things, your team will follow, and they will rally with you.”
On the future of patient experience
CHRISTUS Health and other industry leaders are making significant efforts to transition to more a comprehensive understanding of patient experience. Instead of prioritizing surveys, HCAHPS scores, and value-based purchasing, Cristobal feels the industry needs a more mature understanding of the true meaning behind the numbers.
Partnering with Qualtrics was a significant step in moving toward the future, according to Cristobal. “We needed a partner that was already future-enabled, and that already had the tools we needed for our transformation journey. We felt they had the leadership in place to help us grow at an even faster pace, as they had already developed a set of technologies that is quite advanced,” he said.
Everyone made me feel that I was a human being, who was ill and needed help, and everyone was there to help me.
“We want to continue to invest in lifelong relationships with the communities we serve, where they trust that we will honor our mission, vision, and values,” he concluded. “And to continue accomplishing this, we need to ignite our culture by putting a focus on the stories we create on a daily basis.”
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