DTA Coaching Community – Interview with Sandy Herrala

Sandy Herrala photo

On the first Monday of every month, DTA convenes a community of Care Team Coaches from across the country. The purpose of these calls is for coaches who all use DTA’s Coaching Reporting Tool to share notes and learn from one another on their coaching journeys. On our most recent call, we were able to feature an interview with Sandy Herrala. Sandy is a Patient Experience Advisor at Allina Health in Minneapolis.

Here’s a look at what Sandy had to share with the group.

DTA: First things first: why patient experience and coaching? What drew you to this line of work?

SH: Improving patient care has always been an interest of mine. I worked developing patient support programs in oncology for many years before taking this job and moving into this role. This role gave the opportunity to work with patients and care teams to improve their experiences which leads to better outcomes, better care, and better relationships! I see this all as a win-win for patients and care teams!

DTA: Tell us about your most memorable or most difficult coaching experience.

My very first shadow experience almost derailed my desire to be a coach! I was shadowing a medical specialist who was seeing his patient for a medication follow-up appointment. He asked her why she wasn’t taking her medicines as described and she answered, “A lot of things have happened in my life recently and I just forget to focus on medications.” He never responded to that comment. This went on for a while – the patient kept giving him clues about a traumatic change in her life and finally she said, “I lost my husband while we were in California for his work – he died and I just haven’t been able to focus on anything about me.”

As a coach, I was so sad as the provider never acknowledged this or showed any kind of empathy. In fact, he never responded to her references to her life going upside down at all! After the appointment I asked him why he never acknowledged her statements or why he never demonstrated any empathy. He said, “I didn’t want to derail the appointment with the details of her husband’s death.” The patient walked away likely not feeling heard or listened to and it is very likely this appointment did not help her to focus on her medications.

Although I first felt like “this isn’t the job for me if this is what I will be seeing and hearing,” I was able to debrief with him and to go over the literature and benefits of patient outcomes that could have actually helped this patient in the end. He was responsive and, after thinking about our conversation, a few days later he even sent me an email saying he had thought about our conversation and realized empathy and acknowledging her husband’s death would have made her medical outcomes and her experience better!

DTA: Any tricks or shortcuts that you want to share with your fellow coaches?

SH: Be specific, give examples, help them to succeed. Most important: highlight and celebrate the great care practices (you will find these even in the hardest providers). These providers are trained and want to please and help their patients. They are in this business to do so. There are always great things to highlight. I always use the language of “to enhance the work you are already doing, you could x, y, z. “

Thanks to Sandy and all participants of our monthly Coaching Community Calls! This format has been super helpful in collectively building the Coaching Community across the country. If you are interested in learning more about the DTA Coaching Reporting Tool (the use of which is common to all of the Coaches on these Community Calls), you’re in luck! Sign up to view a demo of DTA Healthcare Solutions’ Coaching Reporting Tool to receive a free copy of “Beyond CAHPS: A Guide for Achieving Patient- and Family-Centered Care.” This book provides healthcare providers with the knowledge they need to construct a top-notch patient experience and uses data to effectively illustrate current progress and identify improvements and goals.

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Janiece Gray

I began my career as a social worker and later, with my Master of Health Administration (MHA), directed operations at Allina Health in Minnesota. I later directed patient experience at Allina. My background and experience give me strengths in approaching healthcare opportunities and challenges through a systems lens – with unique strengths, challenges and activation points. My experience is also informed by leadership roles leading performance improvement in patient-centered care and patient experience departments. Working in the client role with healthcare consulting firms inspired me to address some unmet needs in the industry, and to co-found DTA Healthcare Solutions. I have a Lean Six Sigma Black Belt, and find that the discipline of practice translates to healthcare work very well.

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