What's It Like? Shadowing from an Insiders Perspective

As a true extrovert, my time working with people is where I have always found my joy at work. Because of my affinity for interpersonal connections and communication, many would have thought a job in healthcare to be a natural choice. Frankly, I never considered healthcare because of my skepticism that current systems are not properly addressing patient needs and the constant monetization of essential health care.

Joining the goShadow team as an intern this summer has given me hope for better care delivery, where patients and staff matter. Shadowing is a powerful tool, or as I like to explain to my family who asks what I am doing, shadowing is like your first pair of glasses. You can actually see what is happening, with clarity and understanding of the patient’s actual experience.  I say “actual” experience because most practices have a grasp on the general flow of things and continue to operate with what they know works, but they don’t take the time or have the capacity to assess their current state or identify areas for improvement.

On my first day of shadowing, our team followed patients through their evaluation appointments prior to surgery.  I was tasked with being their first point of contact – explaining our role as shadowers and to make sure they were comfortable with us shadowing their experience. Naturally, I was nervous as I approached my first few patients. That apprehension quickly subsided as I was greeted with positive affirmations from patient after patient thanking us for taking the time to understand their experience and ensure quality in their care.

One patient, a retired nurse named Marie, was particularly interested in talking to me about shadowing and our other projects. Marie explained that over her 30+ years as a registered nurse she had seen so many negative changes in healthcare. As a result, she shared my skepticism with the system, worrying that it was too far gone to make real improvements. Hearing the excitement and hope in her voice as I explained shadowing and our project goals gave me even more faith in shadowing and it's capacity to drive meaningful change.

As someone with no medical knowledge or background, it amazed me how easily I was able to identify pain points and bottlenecks within the first few shadowing sessions. Shadowing is not something that is so complex that can only be utilized by medical professionals. Simply taking the time and having the proper tools in place to launch a project really makes the difference. 

In my observations, doctors and nurses are formulaic in their actions and this repetition aids in their efficiency. This rhythm that offices and practices get into seems impossible to stop or evaluate, which is why shadowing is great. You don’t change anything, you simply observe, analyze, and strategize your plan after aggregating the data and findings. 

As much as I have seen shadowing as a means to understand and better serve patients, the impact on staff satisfaction is equally, if not more, impressive. Staff have incredible insights and understand why things are done the way they are—and more importantly, they have suggestions and ideas for improvement. What staff is lacking is an open forum or means to express themselves and their concerns without fear of being reprimanded. Staff felt comfortable expressing their concerns with me, as I was an independent party, simply observing a process, NOT their work. 

While I have seen shadowing drive incredible changes throughout the summer, what is interesting is that even if no changes were implemented and none of the data was analyzed, the apparent value added to staff and patients makes it worth taking on a shadowing project.  Giving patients and staff a voice matter. Understanding your current state matters. Efficiency and costs matter. Because of all of this I know that shadowing matters.

I am excited to be gearing up for the final year of my MBA program. I am certain I will be updating you on ways to integrate goShadow in my projects.  As a strategy and marketing student, I see the value in understanding customers’ needs and wants in a more authentic way, just as I saw this summer with patients.  The patient pathway in business terms is the path to purchase. Understanding and analyzing that pathway through a proper lense can help enhance customer service and offerings.  The in-person experiences and level of satisfaction with these experiences is the hope for brick-and-mortar retailers. The ability to have real-time data aggregation of customers experience provides the agility needed in today’s volatile and ever-changing business world.