Editors’ note: “Alliances” is a series written about the relationships that hospitalists have with members of the clinical care team, from the team members’ points of view. It’s our hope that each installment of “Alliances” will provide valuable, revealing feedback that hospitalists can use to continually improve their intrateam relationships and, ultimately, patient care.
Nancy Perovic, RN, BSN, quality improvement and innovations coordinator with the hospitalist program at the University of Chicago Medical Center, says this quote from In Our Hands: How Hospital Leaders Can Build a Thriving Workforce is a statement she refers to often in her work and teaching: “Mutual respect between nurses and physicians for each other’s knowledge and competence, coupled with a mutual concern that quality patient care will be provided, are key organizational elements of work environments that attract and retain nurses.”1
In hospitals around the United States, in efforts to improve patient safety and in other initiatives including nurse recruitment and retention, one consistent element is optimizing communication among providers.2-4 Barbara Blakeney, MS, RN, president of the American Nurses Association, interviewed for the publication Web Morbidity and Mortality by its editor, hospitalist Robert Wachter, MD, says that when nurses are not properly supported in the work environment by other staff, and when there are not enough nurses, “it becomes a catch-22—the fewer nurses you have, the more difficult is the working environment, which leads to fewer nurses.”5
Blakeney recommends mutual training for physicians and nurses to improve patient care and safety focus on a number of key areas:
- Understanding and appreciating each other’s skill sets and knowledge base;
- Properly handing off patients and information; and
- Nurturing “a culture in which safety is considered a problem-solving situation and not a punishment situation.”6
“Nurses comprise the surveillance system in hospitals for errors and adverse occurrences,” emphasizes Blakeney, and “the effectiveness of nurse surveillance is influenced by factors that include the quality of the work environment.”5
As essential members of hospital teams, hospitalists play a big role in nurses’ work environments, and mutual support between hospitalists and nurses affects patient care and outcomes, and physician and nurse job satisfaction.6,7 In general, nurses give hospitalists high marks for communication, nurse support, and teamwork.
“From a communication perspective, working with hospitalists makes patient care a lot safer because you don’t have to think of everything that you need to tell attending physicians when they are making their daily rounds,” says Scarlett Blue, RNC, MSN, administrative director, Hospitalist Services for FirstHealth of the Carolinas, Pinehurst, N.C. “With hospitalists you know you can do real-time communication, real-time information. That’s not saying you can’t do that with other physicians who are not in the hospital, but it certainly does make it a lot easier when they’re right here.”
One way that hospitalists support their nurse colleagues is by their ready availability to answer questions about patient care. Julie Koppel, RN, BSN, patient care manager on the General Medicine floor at the University of California at San Francisco Medical Center, has worked exclusively with the hospitalist model in her five years of nursing. She is complimentary about hospitalists’ communication skills and refers to them as “the constant and familiar face.” Koppel relates an instance where the attending hospitalist was already off service and yet she still paged him. “He got back to me promptly and still addressed the issues even though he wasn’t on service anymore and it was about something that had happened a month ago. I still feel hospitalists are available when they’re not even here.”