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4 Ways Medical Staff Can Collaborate More Efficiently

The ongoing collaboration of your medical staff is critical to the successful operations of your facility and the delivery of quality treatment to your patients. Ongoing education can help improve a medical practitioner’s ability to collaborate with other staff members, partners and consultants both on location and remotely.

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Collaboration is important to the health care system because it helps spur collaborative teamwork. Well-coordinated collaboration across medical professions at your practice has the potential to allow for more comprehensive, population-based, cost-effective patient care and a new emphasis on health promotion and disease prevention, which will be essential in meeting ongoing health care challenges.

A team that is appropriately synched when it comes to communicating their needs will be more effective at executing their role on a daily basis, especially when it comes to the ongoing improvement of the care delivered to your network of patients.

During the course of a multiple day hospital stay, a patient may interact with 50 different employees, including physicians, nurses, technicians, and others. Focusing on a high level of collaboration among teams at your facility is critical for the success of your patients during their stay.

This level of collaboration helps build trust among different professionals and educates them in regards to the strengths and weaknesses of each individual that makes up the organization and their team. This understanding can help medical staff perform their duties more efficiently and therefore, continue to succeed.

1. Define Your Collaborative Approach to Health Care

A collaborative team is best defined as a group of medical practitioners from different professions who share patients and patient care goals and have responsibilities for complementary tasks on an ongoing basis. Establish what these teams will look like at your organization to begin setting your staff and coworkers up for success.

This team should be actively interdependent with an established means of communicating with other team members, patients and families to ensure that all the various aspects of patients’ health care needs are integrated and addressed for the future. Technology like mobile devices are continuing to make communication more robust, strengthening the bonds between internal and external team members.

Each staff member should recognize that this collaborative team approach is unique when compared to other approaches where health care professionals work independently without input from other practitioners.

Take Action:

Many health care professionals use a program of communication known as SBAR which is Situation-Background-Assessment-Recommendation to strengthen interactivity between teams and individuals. This technique for collaboration was originally developed by the US Navy and now helps caregivers to more accurately, consistently and efficiently communicate across their organization using standardized forms, guides, checklists and processes to report on different internal processes.

The breakdown in communication often occurs when a patient is passed along to another caregiver, along with the information pertaining to their unique circumstances. SBAR standardizes this process by creating a step-by-step guide on how to handle each specific situation pertaining to a patient’s health needs.

When this process is standardized using SBAR, there’s far less opportunity for important information to get lost or the patient to receive improper care when being passed on to the next caregiver or team member. Here are some SBAR tools to research and purchase to get your organization on the right track when it comes to what collaborative approach you’re going to deliver to your patients.

There are many other techniques to approaching collaboration like SBAR, it just depends on the needs of your facility. Each methodology should address creating a system of accountability, a collaborative approach to problem solving and help identify existing problems in the process of delivering health care treatment.

2. Delegate the Roles of Each Team Member, Respect Job Roles

The education of a health professional is largely separated by profession, limiting the knowledge one staff member has about the skillset of another and potentially causing future problems.

Medical students have few opportunities to learn about other medical professions since there time is already very limited with a full schedule of class, internships and everything else it takes to master their field.

medical team

Learning to understand the roles and responsibilities of other professionals is necessary to function effectively on any team, especially in health care because the success of the team lies on providing quality treatment to patients.

While medical training and legal scopes of practice like HIPA largely determine a person’s role at a health care facility, the skills of various primary care practitioners overlap to some extent in many cases. Most health care professionals have expertise in patient interaction, developing care plans and educating patients on future treatment and best practices for their continued health and well being.

Therefore, it’s important to define the roles of each member of your team, past what their actual job title is, but instead on how they will assist others in dealing with the existing problems plaguing patients. The smaller the practice, the more likely that each role will be further blurred and there may need to be much stricter clarifications of who handles what to ensure collaboration is ongoing.

Each member of the team should clearly understand the role of the more common positions in health care like nurses, physicians, physical therapists, occupational therapists, pharmacists, social workers, dentists, dietitians and psychologists. This is important to establish as a baseline to help each member of a team effectively communicate with one another.

Take Action:

According to the American Nurses Association (ANA), the principles of delegation help medical professionals better reach their goals, more effectively impact the organization and improve the care delivered to patients.

When it comes to effective delegation, as outlined by the ANA, the essential elements include:

1. Maintaining a strong emphasis on your unique skill sets as a medical professional by knowing your strengths and weaknesses.

2. Define the goals of your efforts to delegate.

3. Review specific sections of the law and regulations regarding delegation at a health care facility, as well as the identification of disciplinary actions related to inappropriate delegation among each department.

4. Make a clear emphasis on the tasks or functions that cannot be delegated to others in your department or facility. This is a critical element to delegation that your staff must understand in order to best delegate to others.

5. Educate others on effective judgment for task analysis and decisions to delegate. Confidence is the key to delegating to others effectively.

6. Determine the degree of supervision required to help support delegation across the organization, at times confidence alone isn’t enough without the support of supervisors to encourage and enforce the execution of effective cooperation.

7. Identify guidelines for lowering risks related to delegation.

8. Develop a system of feedback to ensure that tasks are completed and to receive updated data to evaluate the outcome of proper delegation across departments.

3. Assign Specific Responsibilities and Tasks

In a perfect world, medical students would learn about the essential components of collaboration with respect to coordination, communication and shared responsibility. In some cases this is taught before entering the work force and in others it must be reinforced in the field on an ongoing basis.

-Coordination: The first step in coordination is to determine which team members will be responsible for a particular patient problem. Because the focus of the team should be on the needs of the patient, patient care goals determine the makeup of your team and the responsibilities each team member has to address these patient problems.

It is crucial to coordinate with the members of the patient family as partners on this team to ensure they are educated on the patient’s help and how to best address ongoing care. Sharing the care of an individual patient will help give them a 360-degree approach to their treatment and overall health care experience.

-Communication: Effective communication is needed to facilitate coordinated care at all times. An ideal communication system would include a well-designed digital filing system, regularly scheduled meetings to discuss patient care issues around the clock and a mechanism for communicating with external systems.

communication

As stated previously, technology today has helped to drastically impact and improve upon the ability to communicate today. With the continued expansion of the connected revolution, more devices are entering the health care industry to help create one ecosystem of devices that consistently communicate with one another to link facilities, patients and staff members globally.

-Shared Responsibility: Sharing responsibility deals with issues related to leadership and decision making for your collaborative unit. Physicians are historically the leaders and primary decision-makers in health care because of their many legal responsibilities for patient care decisions, but often it’s important to understand the hierarchy of leadership and share the responsibility to deliver world-class care.

Extensive education and training should be disseminated among members of your staff and not reserved solely for use by top physicians and administrators. The always evolving nature of patient care problems determine who will take on the leadership roles among your collaborative teams and how decision-making will be shared at different levels across the organization.

Take Action:

Coordination, communication and shared responsibility are achieved with each of your specific responsibilities when physicians and other professionals approach one another as partners, not as competitors.

The Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), launched a coordinating center earlier this year to provide national leadership in regards to interprofessional education and collaborative practice.

The HRSA is incorporating interprofessional collaboration into its nursing and physician workforce training efforts and into the curriculum of dozens of local and regional health education centers around the country to help further spur the partnering of medical professionals.

In conjunction with the HRSA, the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA), has launched a new effort to encourage and educate professionals on how to work collaboratively as partners at dozens of local and regional health education centers across the United States. This highlights how collaborative healthcare is continuing to become a major focus across the United States.

“The expectation for collaborative practice has always been there,” said Cathy Rick, the Chief Nursing Officer at the Department of Veterans Affairs. “You can talk about collaborative practice all you want, but unless you put systems in place to support and evaluate it, it isn’t necessarily going to happen. This is now part of our strategic plan.”

Adopt the same position as the VA to help ensure that each task across your organization is completed collaboratively for the future.

4. Practice Collaborating, Handling Conflicts and Working Towards Improvement

Collaboration among team members who have different perspectives and areas of expertise often results in fresh insights and solutions to problems that rarely get achieved by one health professional working in a silo.

Each member of the staff should become aware that because of the professional diversity present on the team, differences of opinion and conflict are not only inevitable but are important for the continued growth of your collaboration hence why it is so important to practice and educate on how to deal with these type of issues.

conflict

At times conflict can encourage innovation and creative problem-solving if approached correctly. It’s important for conflict to be constructive, build trust and understanding among team members over time, turning issues into helpful solutions for the organization.

Failure to properly address these conflicts can cause more issues to arise and affect the overall morale of your staff turning one problem into many quite quickly.

To combat these issues, train team members about conflict resolution and how to continually improve the care and problem solving you’re delivering. With your coordinated system of collaboration in place, this should be easy to organize but more difficult to consistently address and execute regularly.

It’s an ongoing process that’s never finished, which is often why learning how to resolve conflicts and improving the care you’re delivering daily can often be quite frustrating even if the final results are gratifying.

Take Action:

The Medical University of South Carolina has put together a “learning spiral” to help conceptualize how to put collaborative care into practice at a medical organiztion.

Their approach suggests building team work competencies and transforming the ways of knowing about certain information to build collaborative care overtime among caregivers and patients alike. Start by creating teamwork competencies through a sequence of “prepare, think, practice, and act” and transforming ways of knowing from absolute to transitional, independent, and contextual stages.

This framework draws from several carefully selected approaches to adult learning developed at the Medical University of South Carolina in 2007 and 2010. As a medical professional progresses through the four stages of the learning cycle, they acquire, apply and demonstrate their interprofessional teamwork skills in increasingly complex learning settings that challenge each individual to use these skillsets throughout their career.

collaborative healthcare framework

What tactics have helped your organization more effectively collaborate? We’d love to hear your input below.

Images courtesy of Hongkiat, Megin Scully MD, CIO, Crowe Associates & ACCN.

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Jonathan has a proven record of entrepreneurial success in the healthcare field. As the founder and CEO of ReferralMD, he is responsible for designing the framework of ReferralMD, while managing enterprise sales, marketing and channel development.