From the Frontline


To the gentleman who sneezed on me on last week’s Wednesday night flight home from St. Louis, I say “thank you” (sarcastically) and “next time, please cover!” Yep, you got it, after that flight I came down with a cold that developed into the flu rendering me the sickest I’ve felt in a long, long time! Normally, I tough it out a week or so but since I’m leaving for Guatemala on Saturday, I decided to make an appointment early this week. It was that visit that confirmed the need for this “From the Frontline” series.

When I checked in at the clinic, the front desk staff person greeted me and then gave me a mask to wear given my symptoms. As I wandered away from the desk putting on my mask and feeling diseased and unclean, she offered “I hope you feel better!” That one expression of encouragement literally brought tears to my eyes. (Apparently, I’m a bit more emotional than normal when I’m feeling under the weather, who knew?!)

Later, after my appointment, I had to go to another desk to make some follow-up arrangements. There I encountered another staff member who was very brusque and the exact opposite of the first front desk person. She was asking me some question related to scheduling a follow-up test and I didn’t understand her question. I felt incredibly stupid. I work in healthcare, I know how generally how things work, but why couldn’t I understand her question? I asked to try to clarify what she needed from me and she got frustrated and said, “it’s just a yes/no question we ask before scheduling this test.” I apologized and said, “I’m feeling so sick today that somehow I’m just not understanding what you’re asking me.” I left feeling confused, frustrated and wondering if my test would be scheduled appropriately given our gap in communication.

In between those contrasting experiences, I had a great encounter with my provider. It didn’t even bother me that the visit was a little longer than it needed to be due to the fact that she had a resident with her, because she was pleasant, thorough, and compassionate about my situation. But despite everything going well with my provider, what stuck with me was the contrast between the two-frontline staff. The first one, who made me cry by a simple empathetic encouraging statement. She made an impact on this sick-feeling patient through her brief, kind words. The second, who almost made me cry for a different reason, left me just feeling confused, frustrated, and angry. Both interactions made a greater impact on me than even the main purpose I was at the clinic!

Our team at DTA has had some of the best experiences partnering with organizations to work with their frontline staff to help make improvements in their care and communication with patients. I’m talking about many of the ancillary and supporting roles that are outside of nurses and physicians: the housekeeping team, transport staff, phlebotomists, front desk staff, nursing assistants, techs, and unit coordinators. In this new series, we want to look at some of the key practices that are applicable to most roles but are particularly powerful for frontline staff to incorporate to provide the best experience possible for their hurting and sick patients. Additionally, we’d like to highlight some of the resources that have been most influential and seemed to really “speak” to the frontline teams that we’ve worked with recently. Stay tuned to hear about some experiences gained in our focus groups, workshops, and coaching sessions with these staff as well as some best practices from the research we’ve done with them!

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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