Today marks the end of the second week of a three-month experiment we are embarking on to improve team-based care. The main elements of our experiment are two early career hospitalists dedicated to a single nursing unit who are present on the unit throughout the day, structured multidisciplinary rounds, pharmacists doing medication histories to help with medical reconciliation, and a veteran hospitalist serving as a coach, broadly overseeing care coordination and throughput on the unit. (I’m going to focus on multidisciplinary care and leave the coaching part for another day.)
Many have written about and many more have tried to establish unit-based hospitalist models, where a hospitalist is assigned to a single nursing unit. These models often incorporate multidisciplinary rounds, where the hospitalist, case management, social services, physical therapy, and perhaps pharmacy meet each day and review each patient’s progress through the hospitalization. The underlying premise for establishing a unit-based model is that all, or nearly all, of the hospitalist’s patients are located on the nursing unit.
It Can’t Be That Hard
Dedicated units and multidisciplinary rounds are designed to achieve better coordination between the hospitalists and the other members of the hospital team. Most healthcare professionals intuitively support this model; however, many hospitalists have concerns.
To provide the best care for their patients while maintaining career satisfaction, these hospitalists may feel the need for flexibility—the ability to be independent and roam unrestricted through the hallways and departments of the hospital. This goal can be at odds with being limited to a single nursing unit.
For these hospitalists to support the unit-based model, there had better be good reasons for doing so.
Measuring the Effects of Teamwork
Jody Hoffer Gittell, PhD, a professor of management at Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass., has studied relational coordination extensively in healthcare and other service industries. Relational coordination can be defined as “coordinating work through relationships of shared goals, shared knowledge and mutual respect, supported by frequent, timely, accurate, problem-solving communication.”1
Dr. Gittell has developed a validated questionnaire to be completed by each member of the healthcare team, quantifying their perspective on these dimensions for others on the team. I think of relational coordination as a rigorous way of quantifying teamwork.
In 2008, Dr. Gittell published an observational study with SHM senior vice president Joe Miller and hospitalist leader Adrienne L. Bennett, MD, PhD, conducted at a suburban Boston hospital.2 The study looked at relational coordination between members of the hospital team under hospitalist care compared to traditional, PCP-based hospital care. They measured relational coordination by asking the attending physician (hospitalist or PCP providing hospital care), medical resident, floor nurse, case manager, social worker, and therapist (occupational, physical, respiratory, speech) to complete questionnaires about the other team members for a cohort of patients.
The study concluded that relational coordination between other members of the team and the physician was significantly higher for patients treated by hospitalists than for patients treated by traditional PCPs. Further, they found that as relational coordination increased, for patients treated either by hospitalists or PCPs, length of stay, cost, and 30-day readmission rates decreased. I will add that the hospitalists were not unit-based in this study, but were assumed to be more available to the care team than traditional PCPs.