Tonight I was inducted into a secret society. A special club. The Illuminati.
The Walking Gallery is the creation of Regina Holliday. Regina is, as I’ve become fond of saying, a tour de force in healthcare. By her own admission, videos don’t do justice to the emotion she brings to her presence. Still, you should watch this one.
When Regina lost her husband Fred, she made a promise. She’d fight for patient rights, access to data, and a not so small goal of generally saving healthcare from itself. She became, as us Buffy fans appreciate, dark Willow.
In 2009 NPR reported on the genesis of Regina’s story.
I like disruptors. I like people who and things which challenge traditional institutions, particularly when the institutions in question don’t quite see it coming. Regina does just that through The Walking Gallery. She paints formal suit jackets for fellow disruptors. Suit in front, disruption in the back.
It’s not all fun and games. Regina’s images are deeply symbolic and, at the same time, disguised. She’s clever that way.
Here’s how it works: Wear the suit jacket to a conference or event. Be taken seriously —after all, it’s a suit jacket —and low and behold, on the back is a painting. What’s that about?… Well, let me tell you! It’s that simple. ________
I was lucky enough to see my own Walking Gallery jacket come to life.
Regina painted The Gamification of Healthcare 1.0 in almost real-time at 2013’s Healthcare Experience Design conference in Boston.
— bacigalupe (@bacigalupe) March 25, 2013
I couldn’t be more honored to be a part of The Walking Gallery. This is important. Regina and the Walkers are disruptive in the best way.
A little back story: Becoming a member of The Walking Gallery is easy, in the way any seriously emotional journey is easy. Mailing, or in my case handing, a jacket to Regina is pretty easy. But the experiences, stories and emotions which go into a jacket….well, those are unique to each member of the Gallery.
I’ll leave it to viewers to seek out metaphors, images and symbolism in Regina’s painting. Suffice it to say, at far too many hospitals, there’s no free parking.
Here’s the story I emailed to Regina before she started painting:
My story is really more of one of personal discovery, but not necessarily driven by a personal experience as a patient (though I’ve had 5 surgeries). But, in fact, I think this is a pretty simple story to tell.
The one thing I was sure of, when thinking about my education and career, was that I’d never work in healthcare. My dad was the CEO of a hospital system. I didn’t have anything against the work, it just didn’t seem interesting at all. I eventually did go to work for a local hospital, but only because they had the most interesting IT department in town. After college I went to work as a hospital performance improvement consultant. (After two years as a computer science major, I really knew, I’d never work in IT. I went on to graduate with a degree in History and English.)
So I criss-crossed the country, working as a consultant in hospitals. Friends and family began to say the apple hadn’t fallen far from the tree.
What started when I was consultant continued over the next 12 years of my career spanning hospital finance, operations and strategic work. I realized I was increasingly pulled into healthcare What I see is a system that is painfully broken and woefully ignorant of the emotional needs of the humans it serves.
Every significant moment in my career as been because of a patient - something they taught me, or made me aware of. Their stories and the experiences we shared together shape me and my work. (I've been accused of a myopic focus in my work and life).
One lady came into the back entry of a hospital I was working in while I was coming back from lunch. She was clearly upset and my coworkers passed her by, I stopped to talk. We spent the next 3 hours together, crying —her first, then me —while I helped her sort out her bills. One simple billing mistake, made by a computer, had caused her weeks of heartache. It was a simple fix but never should have happened.
Another elderly lady came into an urgent center I was running. We couldn’t do the full range of tests she needed, so we asked for her permission to transport her to the emergency room. She begged us not to send her there because a previous experience had been so bad. For an hour, I sat with her and held her hand while she told me her story of surviving cancer twice and founding the area’s first support group. She said she’d only go to the ER if I promised her it would be better. Since I couldn’t make that promise, I decided to go with her. We spent 6 hours together, talking about all the parts that worked and the things that were not patient-friendly. I spent several months working with my teams to try and fix those broken processes in our departments.
My career is full of these stories. I seek them out. I look for people in waiting rooms, lobbies hallways and elevators who may be in pain. I can’t practice medicine, but I can practice empathy, and the emotional rewards are just as great.
The most painful experience was when my father, the hospital CEO, was diagnosed with cancer and underwent a Whipple procedure at Johns Hopkins. During his 18 day stay, he and I dissected every aspect of his care. Most of it was excellent - by all accounts, life saving. But what parts were designed for patients? And what was designed with someone else in mind? What an influential, mind-bending, dont-want-to-do-again-but-grateful-Whipple-experience.
I don’t have a patient story. I have many patients’ stories.
They are the reasons I am disruptive. They are the reasons I got an advanced degree and can wear the disguise of an insider; someone who can sit a the old boys’ club table and be taken seriously (one hopes). But I’m a spy, a secret agent…poised to infiltrate. I bring in ePatients to speak, teeing them up as “expert consultants”. I plan projects under the guise of efficiency but really focused on staff happiness. And with each encounter with a patient or family member, I’d like to think, a little bit of their story becomes part of me. For that, I’m grateful.
I’m not a miracle worker. My plans sometimes backfire, or fail to come to fruition. But the rewards are unlike anything else.