The key to health care is to have a great team

I was a chubby kid, but my parents still introduced me to lots of sports. Soccer, swimming, tennis, basketball; so many sports, when all I wanted to do was read and eat Doritos.  I wasn’t particularly good at any of them, but some of my teams were better than good. We were champs. My swim team won the Cape Cod Summer League, my soccer team won its division one year, and my high school tennis team was state champions all four of the years I was there. I didn’t come in first in butterfly, score the winning goal, or take the final set.

But I like to think I contributed. I swam well enough to place. I defended the goal. I was the manager, the motivator, and the morale booster.  A team needs every one of its members, even in those sports like golf, tennis, and swimming that seem so singular and individual.  Ask the best of the best; they will always tell you there is a team behind each win.

Want to win at wellness and health? You need a healthy team.  Every one of us will be a patient at some point, and every patient needs a good doctor.  But doctors need good patients as well. It doesn’t end there. Nurses, physical therapists, physicians’ assistants, medical assistants, nurse practitioners, techs, caregivers, children, fellow patients are all members of the health care team.  Not only do we need each member to play his role, but the entire team needs to be healthy to maximize the chances for a healthy outcome. We should give as much of our energy to building and maintaining healthy relationships between members of our health care teams as we do to what we eat, whether we smoke, how much we exercise, and whether we meditate.

Research supports that when the health care team is strong, all of the members benefit.  Patients do. Studies of patients with atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease show the strong relationship between patient/physician communication and patient-reported outcomes as well as the use of appropriate therapies like statins and aspirin. Patients also benefit when their providers have strong relationships. When members of an operating room team introduce themselves before surgery, the average number of complications and death dropped by 35 percent. Healthy teams save patients.

Providers benefit as well. Dr. Michael Krasner and Ronald Epstein at the University of Rochester Medical Center have studied physician burnout for years. They think healthy relationships between health care workers, their colleagues and their patients is the cure to burnout. A healthy team could save providers. And at the Mayo Clinic, they recognize that the people who are caring for patients today are often patients themselves tomorrow. Researchers there urge caregivers to accept help and to get connected. Where do you find connections and help? You find them in a good team.

I’ve defended medical malpractice cases for over 20 years. I’ve seen way too many patients with bad results, and often a better health care team could have prevented the imperfect outcome. Every single member of the health care team has an obligation to make things better, and it all starts with communication.  Technology alone can’t build teams, and in fact, apps and EMRs can get in the way.  Old fashioned communication is the key. I’ve never seen a winning team where the members didn’t talk to one another.  Communication is the first step, and it has to happen provider to provider, patient to provider, patient to caregiver, caregiver to provider, and on and on.

Some things need to be seen so they can be treated.  When we see the value of health care teams, and recognize where they are lacking, we can begin to treat them. We must work just as hard on building and maintaining our team as we do on our diet, our exercise regimen, and our meditation mantras. Otherwise, we cannot win.

Heather Hansen is a communications consultant and attorney.  She can be reached at H2 SPARK.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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