The San Diego Organization of Healthcare Leaders held a virtual event on November 3rd called Re-Examining the Patient Experience: Lessons Learned from the Pandemic. The content was so great, that we found ourselves jotting down things to remember. So, we’d love to pass those along to you! It was a panel format, but in the spirit of properly giving credit for thoughts, we’ll cover them by the speaker and the words in quotes are our notes. Please don’t take these as direct quotes, especially as some of the context is lost, but rather the spirit of the concept.

Sonia Rhodes, Founder & CEO, The Experience Lab

“Patients want to be seen.  They want their needs anticipated and to not have to feel like they have to fight through the patient experience.” This really spoke to everything we believe about the patient experience. Patients are the customers and it should be easy for them.  

“What is your experience intention? What feeling do you want to impart? It’s very difficult to create meaningful and memorable relationships with patients if we haven’t first started with creating a meaningful and memorable employee experience.  Fully tune to the experience of your team members and providers. Then, give them the tools to be the architects of the patient experience.  Help them fall back in love with the job they do.” Isn’t this amazing and so sensible? Help our team fall back in love with their job so they can give the warm and fuzzies to our patients.

“Build time for your team to have respite, heal, be, and breathe.  Start meetings with three minutes of breathing.  End meetings with an appreciation of team members.” Particularly during stressful times (like a pandemic), this is so important for us to remember. Healthcare workers are human too. We all need time to recharge.

“Patient experience is not adding to people’s to-do list; it’s a way to be. Be clear about the feeling we want to impart from interactions.” This is so true. Patient experience shouldn’t be more work. It should simply be part of the culture of the organization.

“If you need to touch my body, I’ll drive to the office.  If not, let’s do it virtually.” Yes! Every patient is different, but for some, they won’t go back to running to the office all the time. Follow-up on lab work? Offer it virtually.  Multiple post-op visits and everything has gone smoothly with no complaints? Offer the next follow-up virtually. Need an appointment just for a prescription refill? Offer it virtually. Sonia even talked about the concept of virtual live concierge using Zoom or another platform to talk through colonoscopy prep or how to use the portal. Brilliant.

Lesley Wilson, Associate Chief Experience Officer, UCSD Health

“Patient self-service through technology has propelled utilization.  A comfort level was born out of necessity through COVID.  Let’s make healthcare move forward to catch up with other industries for tools available for self-service.” Online check-in, paying online, pulling up results in the portal, and even scheduling online – patients want access to these things. Let them have it to free up staff time for more important work!

Dr. Ghazala Sharieff, MBA, Corporate Senior Vice President and Chief Medical Officer of Acute Care and Clinical Excellence at Scripps Health

“When we communicate directly with the patient about why they should take medications a certain way and why follow-up appointments are important, it improves their compliance.” This makes total sense. Yes, it takes a few more minutes of precious time but is absolutely vital.  

“Use non-punitive self-assessments to evaluate how you are doing.  Start with one thing that you aren’t doing on a consistent basis.  Use the results to improve the process – call buttons, quiet at night, etc.  And, changing those questions in real-time to get timely data.  There is a gold mine in the patient comments on the satisfaction surveys.  Delve deeper into what patients are saying.” You know we love that gold in the patient comments. Yes, some of it is just an angry person venting, but a lot of it is valuable information about your organization. Read it. Believe it. Change processes based on it.  

“How does the team decompress?  Patients/families are on edge and the constant barrage on healthcare workers wears on the team.  Peer-to-peer support program/coaching has been effective. De-escalation class with boundaries, key phrases, and knowing when to substitute team members works well.  A reminder that it is not personal.” Dr. Sharieff is so right here. Everyone loses when families are upset and healthcare workers are beaten down from them being upset. It’s not personal but feels that way. Our healthcare workers need a way to decompress and our patients deserve people that can de-escalate a tense situation.

“Ask ‘Why are you staying in this field?’ to help people find their joy in the job.  The answers are amazing and are often about the team.  If they aren’t happy, help them find their next job.” We just love this. What a great way to help people fall back in love with their job. And, it’s okay to move on if it’s no longer the right place.

“Don’t go back to the slow way of doing things.  We’ve proven that we can pivot quickly.  It doesn’t have to take months to get things done.  Perfection is our enemy.  Challenge the team to try fast and fail fast.” Bam. We can do this!

When asked to share a tangible behavior or verbiage that they’ve found to be useful in patient interactions to convey caring, Dr. Sharieff said, “Sit at the bedside.  They don’t have visitors, so it’s huge.  Express that you understand how difficult this is and ask what you can do to make it better.” We’ve been talking about sitting while with patients for years because it creates the perception that you were there longer. But, this takes it to a whole new level. We love this heartfelt advice.


Our biggest takeaway from this is that we’ve got to take great care of our teams, need to put patients’ desires first in designing our systems, and shouldn’t go back to the pre-pandemic way of doing things just because we can. We hope you learned as much as we did from these amazing speakers and can implement these ideas in your organization.