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How Hospitalists Can Team with Nursing to Improve Patient Care


Establishing mutual respect and trust between hospitalists and nurses is an important part of ensuring patient safety, whether you’re on your first job or your 20th, says Angela Beck, RN, director of critical-care services at Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha.

“Nurses are important coordinators of care,” she says. “Recognizing and valuing nurses for that is truly the most important thing for the patient, and can also help hospitalists build relationships.”

Key Partners

Forming a collaborative relationship with the nursing service might depend on where you start. At Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago, the nursing service enjoys a “close and collaborative relationship” with hospitalists, according to Kristin Ramsey, RN, MSN, MPPM, NE-BC, associate chief nurse and executive director of operations. New hospitalists are oriented to the care-delivery models on the inpatient care units. In addition, hospitalists are acculturated into the hospital’s coleadership model.

“We have partnered with our hospitalists to create a model in which the physician and nurse leader collaboratively lead the development of multidisciplinary, subspecialty teams to ensure quality outcomes,” Ramsey says. “The model is so successful with the hospitalists that we are now extending it to other areas in the organization.”

Round Sharing

Absent a formalized training protocol for partnering with nursing, hospitalists still can learn a great deal by listening to and communicating with the nursing staff, says Connie Ogden, RN, MSN, NEA-BC, executive director of adult acute services at Nebraska Medical Center. “Nurses are there around the clock caring for patients and may have a different insight” about patients’ evolving conditions, she says.

Care for the patient improves if everyone is on the same page, Ogden adds. That’s why it makes sense, she says, to include nurses during rounds. Beck agrees: “If nurses aren’t there to hear how the plan of care comes about, there is no reason to believe they can effectively describe it once the physician turns around and walks away to see another patient.”

In critical-care units, according to Beck, nurses can function as a bridge between patients and physicians. For example, they can help patients define and express their goals. Some of these goals can be incremental, she notes, such as “I really want to get out of bed this afternoon,” or “I really want my family here to listen to this message.”

Different Role, Same Goal

As director of adult acute services, Ogden often receives complaints from physicians about calls they receive from nurses. Often, these calls emanate from a concern for the patient (e.g. a 2 a.m. call for a Tylenol order to address a headache) or from the requirement that nurses follow policy and clarify orders. If hospitalists understand the back story of the call, their perception of its purpose can change.

Although there have been strides toward better nurse-physician collaboration, “we still have a lot of opportunities for improvement,” Beck asserts.

Establishing mutual respect and trust is not an overnight accomplishment. As Ogden explains, physicians and nurses have different roles, but they share the same goal: quality outcomes in patient care.

Gretchen Henkel is a freelance writer based in southern California.

Best Ways to Improve Hospitalist-Nursing Collaboration

“A good portion of nurses are relationship builders,” says Beck, director of critical-care services at Nebraska Medical Center. She urges hospitalists on a new job to just “be physically present, in the beginning, on inpatient units” whenever possible. “Acting like you care is really important, and nurses will respond to that,” she says. “You can create an environment in which nurses’ feedback is valued.”

She also recommends, especially for new hospitalists, Dr. Peter J. Pronovost’s three-part talk “The Science of Safety,” delivered to incoming residents at Johns Hopkins University Medical Center in Baltimore, where Dr. Provonost is medical director of the quality and safety research group.—GH

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