Collaborative Team Health Care
Collaborative, team-based health care is becoming an increasingly popular way to practice medicine. The days of a top-down approach in which doctors simply dictate care to patients who know very little about their diseases have been replaced by a 360-degree view of the health experience. The care team has expanded beyond doctors and patients, and now actively involves nurses, health aides, social workers and caregivers – among others – in key decision-making strategies.
Like many changes in medicine, this transition has not necessarily been easy. For example, as a clinician, I can attest to the difficulty of relinquishing “control” to patients whose viewpoints on how to manage their care may differ from what I believe would be best based on research and experience. Additionally, these challenges are confounded by the increased use of electronic medical records, the trend towards sub-specialization, and the ever-knowing “Dr. Google.”
In our efforts to fully integrate ourselves and our practices into a complete patient-care home, we have had to learn how to navigate various technical, communication and social barriers. We have changed our expectations and redefined responsibilities. Patients are expected to take an active role in their care. Doctors are challenged to heal more than just the body. Nurses are participating in hospital rounds more readily and are being more encouraged to add their perspective on patients’ conditions as they are on the front lines. The rules are constantly changing and require us to adapt on a regular basis.
But the idea of team-based care is certainly not new. Organizations are, however, now specifically devoting more resources to maximize team efficiency in an effort to improve patient outcomes and satisfaction. For this reason, it is paramount that in order for true collaboration to exist within an organization, the leaders must believe in its power. Support from the top, whether in the form of tangible or intangible resources is invaluable.
In addition to support from administrators, the members of the care team who work together on a regular basis must foster an environment of trust, mutual respect and open communication. Each member of the team must feel valued in his or her own way. The roles that every person plays help move patients toward their ultimate goals, and we should not underestimate another provider’s contribution just because it is different from our own.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the care team is nothing without the patient, who should be treated as an active member as well. In particular, patients must be well informed. We should not expect that just because we think we have been clear in our message that the patient has actually understood. This is not to say that patients are not listening or capable of understanding, but rather that we as providers make certain assumptions and connections when explaining disease processes that may not be evident to everyone.
As we brave the new frontiers of the collaborative landscape, I hope we will remember the words of Helen Keller in our endeavors, “Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much."
American Resident Project fellows receive compensation from Anthem for sharing their perspectives on this blog. Fellows views are their own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Anthem, Inc.