It has been a couple of years since Jason Stein, MD, SFHM, a hospitalist at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta, first reported on his experience with accountable care units (ACUs) and structured interdisciplinary bedside rounds (SIBR). With ACUs, Jason and his team undertook an “extreme makeover” of care on the hospital ward. Because most hospitalist groups are endeavoring to address team-based care, I took the opportunity to catch up with and learn from Jason, who has created an exciting and compelling approach to multidisciplinary, collaborative care in the hospital.
In 2012, Jason’s team won SHM’s Excellence in Teamwork in Quality Improvement Award, and Jason was selected as an innovation advisor to the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation. Since then, ACUs and SIBR have been implemented at a number of sites in the U.S. and abroad, and the work has been referenced by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality and the Harvard Business Review. Jason has created Centripital, a nonprofit that trains members of the hospital team to collaborate optimally around the patient and family, the central focus of care.
Here are some excerpts from my interview with Jason:
Question: What is an accountable care unit (ACU)?
Answer: We defined an ACU as a geographic inpatient care area consistently responsible for the clinical, service, and cost outcomes it produces. There are four essential design features of ACUs: 1) unit-based physician teams; 2) structured interdisciplinary bedside rounds, or SIBR; 3) unit-level performance reports; and 4) unit co-management by nurse and physician directors.
Q: What were you observing in the care of the hospitalized patient that led you to create ACUs?
A: We saw fragmentation. We saw weak cohesiveness and poor communication among doctors, nurses, and allied health professionals. HM physicians who travel all over the hospital seeing patients are living with an illusion of teamwork. In reality, to be a high-functioning team, physicians have to share time, space, and a standard way to work together with nurses, patients, and families. When we embraced this way of thinking, we realized we could be so much better than we were. The key was to re-engineer a way to really work together.
Q: What makes an ACU successful?
A: In a word, control. An ACU creates new control levers for all of the key players to have greater influence on other members of the team—nurses with doctors, doctors with nurses, patients with everyone, and vice versa. It’s actually quite simple how this happens. The ACU clinical team spends the day together, caring for the same group of patients. Everyone communicates face to face, rather than by page, text, or phone. Stronger relationships are built, and clinicians are more respectful of one another. A different level of responsiveness and accountability is created. The feeling that every person is accountable to the patient and to the other team members allows the team to gain greater control over what happens on the unit. That’s a very powerful dynamic.
SIBR further reinforces the mutual accountability on an ACU. During SIBR, each person has a chance to hear and be heard, to share their perspective, and to contribute to the care plan. Day after day, SIBR creates a positive, collaborative culture of patient care. Once clinicians realize how much control and how much self-actualization they gain on an ACU, it seems impossible to go back to the old way.
“In reality, to be a high-functioning team, physicians have to share time, space, and a standard way to work together with nurses, patients, and families. When we embraced this way of thinking, we realized we could be so much better than we were. The key was to re-engineer a way to really work together.”
—Jason Stein, MD, SFHM