Unit-based models of care


The bad

The biggest challenges that we are working through with this model are hand-offs and transfer of patients from one team to another. Sometimes, it happens that one team’s patient will wind up on a floor that is the designated floor of another team because of bed availability. We continue to work with bed board to address this issue. We want to minimize transfers and hand-offs to promote continuity and have to balance that with the need for geographic location. With clear communication, hospital collaboration from bed board and safe hand-off methods, this problem can be safely addressed.


The experience of implementing the unit-based team model has been an eye-opening journey. One thing that stands out is that, in an increasingly complex health care system, design thinking is critical.

Design thinking takes into consideration the needs of those who are using a system. In this case, patients and health care workers including doctors, nurses, case managers, and social workers are the end users of the health care system. All parties are utilizing the health care system to optimize patient health. Therefore, we must create systems that are easy to navigate and use by patients and health care workers so that they can ensure the success of patients.

Unit-based teams offer a basic framework to optimize the inpatient system to facilitate better workflow. In our system, it allowed us to optimize communications between health care workers and also between health care workers and patients. It allowed team members to work in close proximity to better share ideas with each other.

We spent a significant amount of time upfront earning the support of all of the disciplines for this effort. We had support from all leaders within the organization and continue to make our case for this model by sharing metrics and holding forums to discuss the process.

Initial data show a marked improvement in many domains of HCAHPS scores. Our frontline staff, including attendings, residents, nursing, case managers, and social workers, also continue to support this effort since it has a positive impact on their workflow and improves their workday quality. One nurse mentioned specifically, “in my 30 years at this hospital I have never seen people work together so well.”

To sustain this effort, we continue to have regular meetings, and there are new features that we would like to add to the program. For example, we are working with our IT group to ensure that each unit-based team will have dashboards available to incorporate real time, actionable data into daily workflows.

We are excited by the potential of our high-performing teams to highlight the patient experience, placing the patient at the center for care, decision making, and rounding. Health care is a team sport, and anytime you build something where all teams are playing together and approaching the finish line as a unit, you will never go wrong!

Dr. Pendharkar is division chief of hospital medicine at the Brooklyn (N.Y.) Hospital Center, medical director of inpatient services and director of quality for the department of medicine at the Brooklyn Hospital Center and assistant professor of medicine, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York. Dr. Malieckal is chief resident, internal medicine, at the Brooklyn Hospital Center. Dr. Gasperino is chair, department of medicine; vice president for critical care, perioperative, and hospital medicine; and associate chief medical officer at the Brooklyn Hospital Center.

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