Focusing on what matters most in healthcare: People
May 23, 2022
Rick Evans, the first chief experience officer at NewYork-Presbyterian, is helping bring greater humanity to the patient experience.
He believes that the patient experience can include a mix of technology and people so that it is efficient and still feels human.
Evans knows that the same things that frustrate patients also frustrate healthcare workers, so he’s making improvements that help the overall system.
Accenture: You are a student of philosophy and theology. How did you first become involved in the healthcare industry?
Rick Evans: It was not the career I planned. My intention was to become a Catholic priest and I went through the system for training priests—college for philosophy and theology school—but I decided to not be ordained at the last minute. I was the runaway groom of the Catholic Church
I still wanted to do something to help people and be of service, so I started out in the nonprofit world. First, I ran a soup kitchen in Connecticut. I later became the director of a national nonprofit focused on drug prevention. Then I thought about making a change. Interestingly, my early mentors were in healthcare. My mom was a nurse. It just seemed like the way to go, so I pivoted. I landed at a Catholic hospital that was looking for laypeople who were theologically trained to lead the mission portfolio. I was later recruited into NewYork-Presbyterian—and it has exceeded my expectations.
A: When did you join NYP and what are your main responsibilities?
RE: I’ve done two tours of duty here. I joined in 2004 as director of patient-centered care. I was responsible for the volunteer department, interpreters and the patient-centered patient satisfaction portfolio. I transitioned in 2011 to Massachusetts General where I was the first chief experience officer. We had just adopted our son and Boston was closer to family. In 2015, I was asked to come back to NYP, so I returned and became their first CXO.
My job covers two big verticals—traditional patient experience and a strategic focus on the consumer vertical. We are working on creating clear “front doors” for customers across channels, such as the web and call centers.
SENIOR VICE PRESIDENT AND CHIEF EXPERIENCE OFFICER – NEWYORK-PRESBYTERIAN
“It’s a people taking care of people business so to do it well, you have to understand the operations.”
— RICK EVANS
A: There are different interpretations of the CXO role in the healthcare industry; what do you view as the most important aspects of the role?
RE: The CXO is a strategy leader. It is a true senior role and a peer of other senior leaders like the chief nursing officer, chief IT officer and chief financial officer. I sit at the table with them, and we drive the strategy together. I think the role requires operations chops and knowledge of what it’s like to run a department. Patient experience lives or dies in the workflow of our people. It’s a people taking care of people business so to do it well, you have to understand the operations. If I have a strategic idea, I need to make sure it will work for the nurse, the doctor or the housekeeper who has 20 beds to clean.
Patient experience used to be a nice thing to do. Now, it’s publicly reported and reimbursement is tied to it. You need the right strategy to make it work. We look at how our customers view us and the ratings they give us. We make changes to improve experiences, but at the same time, support our team’s success. Our people are under constant production pressure while they are taking care of people. We need to ease that burden and free them to do what they do best.
A: Given the unparalleled challenges of the past two years in healthcare, what have been some of your biggest challenges as a leader?
RE: We are still figuring it out. When the pandemic began, New York City was hit first and worst. It’s been lifechanging and devasting. We didn’t know what we were dealing with. I had never been physically scared at work before then, aside from 9/11. We weren’t certain we would have enough resources. It was a day-by-day race with the virus. We worried about our own safety as well as the safety of others. This deeply affected all of us and we are still recovering.
We had to learn to be authentic and transparent about how we were feeling. We had to normalize people feeling vulnerable or at times, not having the patience they needed. Although we didn’t have all the answers, we built ICUs just like that, stood up telemedicine just like that. We learned we can change faster than we thought we could.
We also learned that human presence at the bedside is critical. There was real harm done to patients, loved ones and our teams without it. People being with their loved ones means so much in healthcare. We may have undervalued that before and we have to maintain that in the future.
A: In what ways do you feel patient expectations have changed in light of the pandemic?
RE: People want compassion and connection, but they also want convenience. In New York City, if I can’t get it quickly, I’ll go somewhere else. We have to be convenient. When we talk about being patient-centered, that includes convenience. It means requesting paperwork only when necessary. It means a person should be able to get information at 11:00 at night when they’re thinking about their condition.
We have been a lagging industry. Just look at telemedicine. We have to get on top of it or we won’t succeed. It is critical for us to meet customer needs in a much more nuanced way; a responsible, moral way.
A: At NYP, what are some of the ways in which you’re striving to humanize the patient experience?
RE: We are using technology to keep humanity in healthcare through our “Front Door to Care” and patient experience initiatives. There are many things technology can do, but the risk is that healthcare could become too transactional. So, how do you use technology in a way that bolsters support and humanity? We must make room for clinicians to sit with patients, talk with them and connect with them in person. It should be a mix of technology and people that still feels human.
A: What are some of your goals for helping to improve equity in healthcare?
RE: The pandemic laid bare equity issues. George Floyd and the awakening that followed happened. The city was filled with protests outside of our doors. We were inspired to make change.
We founded the Dalio Center for Health Justice, made possible by a donation from the Dalio family. We chose the name health justice because it’s something to be fought for; it’s not just about equity. Today, we’re connecting better with our community, and we are learning more about who are patients are—their background, the communities they come from, whether they are of color or LGBTQ+. Hospitals have done a poor job of collecting that data and explaining to patients why the data is being collected. We want to know because then we can understand. We are looking for trends and outcomes in a deliberate way to see if there are differences across gender, race, sexual orientation or immigrant status. We’re also looking at protocols in our care to root out bias.
A: While your focus is on patient experience, you work closely with providers who are under tremendous stress and pressure. What do you feel the industry should be doing differently to support clinicians and minimize burnout?
RE: So many things. We need to change the culture to allow people to say, “I’m in trouble.” The “suck it up” culture is pervasive. As an organization, we are filled with A+ students who see an A- as an F. So how do we put structures in place to support mental health, resilience and recovery? We talk about resilience, but that means different things for different people. Some need childcare or help with older parents. Some people need food assistance. It’s an array of support that we need to offer and also make it culturally OK. No penalizing or stigmatizing.
The same things that frustrate patients frustrate physicians and healthcare workers, too. Anything we can do to help patients, helps the overall system and makes conditions on the ground better.
A: Who has inspired or influenced you in your career? What advice or guidance did that person provide?
RE: I have been so lucky to have amazing mentors. One mentor coached me through the sometimes ridiculousness of the healthcare system. He taught me, “It’s only an event.” That doesn’t mean you’re passive about what needs to be fixed. It’s about steering through a bizarre system that in the end, has to work for people.
My current boss has taught me so much about navigating through complicated agendas and the importance of emotional intelligence. It’s important to self-regulate and be aware of your reactions as you keep an eye on the ball. I think my theological training has helped me to read and understand people and use empathy. It’s like having a secret weapon in my work every day.
A: What do you like to do outside of work? Do you have any special hobbies or interests?
RE: My joy is my family. My son, who is 11, plays baseball. Our entire weekend is baseball. I love sitting in my lawn chair with my partner watching Josh play. I’m also a runner. I began running a lot in the pandemic. I’d also call myself an amateur presidential historian. I read books about the presidents and visit their homes and gravesites. It’s been a hobby since I was kid. I guess you could say that’s the nerdiest thing about me.