Listen to Moments Move Us Season 2 Episode 10: Reflecting on Moments of Connection with Rebecca Coren
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New Podcast Episode: Reflecting on Moments of Connection with Rebecca Coren
What You’ll Learn:
Sometimes it takes becoming a patient yourself to see the gaps in your organization.
Stephanie Abbott is the Chief Experience Officer for Adventist Health. Although it isn’t the career path she imagined as a child, she’s always felt drawn to healthcare. And then things became very personal for her when she received a breast cancer diagnosis. Suddenly, she was in the patient’s shoes.
While she could have allowed cancer to knock her down, Stephanie chose to find purpose in her pain. In this conversation, she shares how the perspective she’s gained during her journey will help improve the experience for patients to come.
THEMES: Healthcare culture, Improving patient and caregiver experiences, Importance of micro changes, Impact of personal stories
“[As a young girl, when helping my dad with his work as CEO of a hospital] I saw how passionate he was about making a difference in healthcare and operations. Every day he was always wanting to make a difference in something he was doing to impact others. That is what I saw about healthcare. He instilled that in me.”
“I used to work for Intermountain Healthcare, and we lived in Park City, Utah, and we were driving up the canyon, and one of our helicopters had landed on the road and was assisting someone for a very serious event. And this just overwhelming pride came over me, and I looked at my husband and I said, ‘I’m a part of that.’ And he said, ‘No you’re not. That’s the helicopter team.’ And I’m like, ‘No, I’m part of that, and this is how.’ I went into a dissertation about how I am a part of that and the whole scope of things.”
“At times, healthcare is very tactic- and process-driven, and we have so many things that we have to do that sometimes we forget to pause and realize the human being that is standing in front of us. It might have been the 53rd time I did this today, but this patient might have just gotten an awful diagnosis. This might be their first time doing something. They’re terrified. And we can either approach that moment by creating additional suffering, or we can reduce that patient’s suffering by creating a moment for them that makes them feel like a unique individual experiencing healthcare.”
“At 37 years old, I was diagnosed with breast cancer, and 2022 was not the year that I had expected it would be. And I don’t think you’ll ever hear most people say, ‘Breast cancer was a blessing.’ But for me, I feel that it really was. I learned a lot this year wearing two hats, as a subject matter expert and also as a patient. And I’ve been able to look at things through two different types of lenses that I feel is going to impact the way I approach improvement work the rest of my life.
When I first got my diagnosis, I called one of my girlfriends who had gone through this years prior, and I was crying, I was in a really dark place. And she was just talking about my role and my passion and influential ability, that I could really spin this in a positive way. And I started to think about, if I take what I learn and try to look at it through that objective lens, I’ll be able to make a difference for millions of people in this space.
I love memes, and I saw one that said, ‘Dear Jesus, why are you putting me through troubled waters?’ And it said, ‘Because your enemies cannot swim.’ So, then I started to look for signs and ways that just connected me to trying to understand, what is the bigger purpose of what I’m experiencing, and how can I make a difference for millions of people in this space through my journey?”
“When I was having my mastectomy surgery, I was told to be there at 7:45. My best friend and my husband were driving with me, and we got to the hospital at 7:45. I get brought back into the room to do all this imaging test and all that prep work. It is 8:30. No communication, no nothing whatsoever. And I end up finally going out there. Cause now I’m a little irritated and the staff member is like, ‘Oh, well they’re in a meeting with administration.’ So now my operational hat is going on. Looking at all these different rooms, I’m looking, estimating the price of the equipment. I’m doing formulas in my head, thinking about the waste, and then I think of how often has that happened with my patients because somebody was in a meeting with me? It’s almost like a kick in the face that says, ‘Oh man, I hope that that never happened when it was me.’
What ended up happening is that the physician that came in a little bit later and said, ‘Hey, I just want you to know that I apologize for running late. We have this continuity of care meeting where we talk about all our patients for the day. You were part of that conversation and your surgical oncologist happened to be there.’ I love my surgical oncologist. And so, I said, ‘Oh, she was there. I forgive you.’ So, because of the relationship I had with my provider, I was way more forgiving. Because if she hadn’t been there, I probably would’ve been a little bit more irritated.”
“I adore my oncologist. He is probably one of the most phenomenal human beings I’ve ever met in my life, and he really gets the experience of patients and how important it is. And there’s so many examples I could go, but specific to like wait times. I remember I was sitting in the lobby, I had one of my clinic meetings to kind of depend on what part of the journey I was on. And I was sitting in the lobby. There was about fifteen or so other people and his medical assistant came out and she goes, ‘Excuse me, I need to make an announcement. Anybody that’s waiting on doctor so-and-so, he is running about thirty minutes behind, and I apologize for that. But we did want to keep you informed. We understand that your time is valuable. If you need to reschedule, we can help you reschedule. If you’re fine waiting, we appreciate it.’ Do you know what happened? I didn’t see anybody reschedule.”
“As I’ve become a patient, I have approached my journey trying not to be that patient that has the executive hat and I’m being critical of everything. But I think through my journey, it’s actually been a blessing for me, because I’ve been able to do both. I’ve been able to see how some of these things and these tactics that we do and experience, whether they really matter, or do we need to pivot with pride to really make the impact that we’re expecting?”
“I want to make a difference for millions of people in this space, and I’m going to start with my own company. I’m currently writing a book right now, and the way that my book is outlined is really a call to action for healthcare leaders. I’ve broken down my experience with stories based upon different things that we do in healthcare—the way that it’s designed, et cetera. And I want to take those learnings and apply them to journeys with the patients.”
“There’s been times along my healthcare journey where I wasn’t always in the best place. I have an amazing mentor in my life, and I was talking to him once and I was crying, and I was just like, ‘I don’t know that I even want to be in healthcare anymore.’ And he was like, ‘Whoa, I’ve known you now for a decade. Never once have you ever said that.’ And I’m like, ‘Yeah, I don’t know that I want to do this anymore.’ And he told me, ‘Your type of role is hard. You have to make change through influence. You also don’t always get a lot of support in order to do that, and it’s not always about the macro-level changes that you make or those macro differences that you expect. It’s about the micro differences that you make every single day that lead to macro differences. What micro difference did you make today, that made a difference?’ And so now I’ve been trying to look at things from that perspective and be like, ‘Okay, what did I do today that made an impact for someone so that they could do something for someone else?’ So that’s how I’ll be approaching this next year, is looking for those micro things that I can do today that will eventually get me the macro results that I’m looking forward to.”
“When I started to really understand patient experience, employee experience, and how culture is the foundation that drives everything, I loved it, and I got really good at it and passionate about it, and so that’s how I continued to climb this journey.”
“Nobody is ‘just’ in healthcare, because we either provide clinical care as a caregiver or we supply support to those caregivers, but we’re all caregivers.”
“My perspective has changed in the sense that, we do all these tactics in experience… and it’s not about the tactic, it’s about the moment that you create between yourself as the caregiver and that human being. [As a patient myself,] what I’ve been able to notice is that we design our systems for what’s convenient for our system, and it’s not always conducive to a compassionate environment for our patients.”
“How often do leaders actually take the time to go through that entire patient journey and look for how it feels, and how those processes are that really impact that patient’s perception of care?”
“There’s actual hard evidence first to improve the experience for our employees because ultimately, the patient experience will never supersede the employee experience. Once we look for ways to improve the employee experience, delivering a compassionate experience for our patients, that then brings value for our organization in multiple ways, financially and in clinical outcomes.”
“The patient experience matters.”
“I think the biggest opportunity is really taking that step back and looking at that low-hanging fruit in our process, the way we have things designed, the impact on access, et cetera, and saying, ‘Okay, let’s break these into manageable chunks,’ and ‘How do we implement change that really makes a difference in those types of areas?’”
“Before I even really started to focus on patient satisfaction, the way that experience was designed was the provider in the middle, and everything operates around that provider. And then it was ‘No, let’s put the patient in the center. We’re going to call it patient-centered care, and everything operates around the patient.’ I’m going say no to that [too]—it’s really the employee and the patient arm-in-arm. Everything else should operate around it. We should design a system that is conducive to that employee environment or their experience and the patient experience.”
“It’s about the power of connections and the power of stories, because that’s really what influences change. When you talk about driving improvement, you don’t really remember the tactic, you remember the story that you heard about the tactic. And that’s what creates that value.”
“It’s so easy to boil the ocean, right? I look at everything I want to do, and I start to get anxiety. I’m like, ‘How am I going to get this all done?’ But it’s just taking one thing out at a time and just applying that process improvement, and you make a difference for one person that then makes a difference for a lot.”
Explore transformative stories from healthcare executives as they share impactful moments of human connection from their professional journeys.