Eight Signs of Great Medical Practice Teamwork

October 25, 2014

If your medical practice staff members aren't doing these eight things, it's time to make teamwork a bigger priority.

I am currently reading The New York Times best-selling novel, “The Boys in the Boat.” It is the true story of the 1936 University of Washington eight-man rowing team that won the national rowing championship that year and then went on to capture the Olympic gold medal in Berlin, beating the host Germans. That Olympic event was noted for the rise of Adolf Hitler and Nazism - it was also renowned for sprinter Jesse Owens' winning of four gold medals, dispelling Hitler’s notion of Aryan superiority.

In addition to the rowers, the novel tells the story of the legendary craftsman/boat builder, George Yeoman Pocock, whose philosophy of teamwork sets the foundation for the rowers’ success. In the novel Pocock states, “To see a winning crew is to witness a perfect harmony in which everything is right.”

So what does this have to do with a medical practice?

A good practice is also successful when there is harmony and teamwork among the entire practice staff. The front-desk, check-out, nurses, physicians, billers, cleaning staff, all must realize there is a common goal that centers around the patient and the physician. Medicine is, and will always be, “about the docs,” but it is the teamwork of the practice staff that makes the docs successful.

The staff members at successful medical offices practice teamwork by:

• Knowing when to ask for help, such as when a receptionist asks another front-desk staff member to pick up the additional extension when the receptionist is too busy to do so.
• Sharing important information, such as when a physician discusses and shares patient information with a nurse so that the nurse can support, educate, and empathize with the patient.
• Having an open dialogue with the practice administrator, such as when a patient is having difficulty paying his copay and the staff asks the administrator if they can waive the copay.
• Keeping patients informed during handoffs, such as when transferring calls from patients to other members of the team. For instance, the staff member might say, “Mrs. Brown, let me get you the staff person who can assist you, her name is Mary. If some reason Mary is not available or can’t assist you, my name is Jane and here is my extension number.”
• Supporting each other, such as when a staff member asks a coworker how her mother is doing, knowing she was recently hospitalized.
• Reminding the physician of important patient information, such as by saying to the physician, “The last time Mrs. Smith was here, she told you her grandson was diagnosed with cancer. Don’t forget to ask her how he is doing.”
• Never saying, “I can’t do that, it is not my job; I never did that before.” Instead always saying, “How can I help you?”
• Discussing football, TV shows, Facebook, Obamacare, the kid’s soccer games, life in general, because happiness and harmony is not always about the “bottom line.”

As boat builder Pocock would say, “Good thoughts have much to do with good rowing. It isn’t enough for the muscles of a crew to work in unison; their hearts and minds must also be one.”