Sometimes, healthcare collaboration can sound mundane.
It sounds like a bit of a “flourish” — something that’s ideal to do if we have time, but not crucial to the care we give. I think many providers picture it as useful for “double checking” a diagnosis or getting some second-level insight.
But a recent story in the New York Times shows that a lack of healthcare collaboration can have permanent impacts on our patients’ lives. And that what we can get from healthcare collaboration is far from basic — it’s crucial to the fundamental care we give.
A six-year-old boy in Texas, called Mason Motz, has been nonverbal his whole life. His parents believed that it came from a stroke he had when he was 10 days old. And while he could speak at the level of a one-year-old for his entire life, he had never been able to communicate much beyond beginnings of basic words — a kind of communication that only his parents could understand.
In the last few years, Mason started going to a dentist that focuses on care for kids with special needs. His dentist, Dr. Amy Luedemann-Lazar, started with some basic procedures, getting to know Mason over the course of many visits, and making sure he felt comfortable at the office.
In April, Dr. Luedemann-Lazar was performing an unrelated procedure and realized that the band under his tongue was shorter than normal — he was tongue-tied. She dashed to the waiting room and got permission from the Motzes to do the corrective procedure. She was able to perform the procedure in 10 seconds, with a laser — and within hours, Mason was talking dramatically more understandably than before.
We know that there is controversy about the detrimental effects of ankyloglossia as noted in the article and even about the technique of repair, but in this case at this age, it was clearly an appropriate avenue to go down. Mason has a road of speech therapy ahead but is expected to be caught up to his peers’ speaking ability by age 13.
While this is certainly a simple story of a medical provider who really got things right, we think that the story also holds some lessons about healthcare collaboration that are important to capture.
3 Things We Learned About Healthcare Collaboration from this Story:
- When providers from different specialties aren’t part of the conversation, huge mistakes happen.
Although Dr. Luedemann-Lazar made a tremendous diagnosis, we still regret that the insight didn't happen when Mason was still a baby. On our interdisciplinary Cleft & Cranio-facial team, we treated children with cleft palates and cleft lips -- and the team included dentists, teachers, social workers, plastic surgeons and others. This meant that foundational insights from one specialty didn't get missed in care from a different specialty.
- Relationships with our patients allow insights.
In this story, I found it interesting that the dental practice that Mason had been going to specialized in caring for patients with special needs -- and that part of what they do is develop trusting relationships with their patients. I believe this approach may have played a role in facilitating the diagnosis -- without the background relationship, it's possible that the dentist wouldn't have noticed the issue. Healthcare collaboration enables doctors to have stronger, more holistic relationships with their patients. Rather than the constant handoffs, the team approach to care means that the patient and who they are as a person is front-and-center.
- Sophisticated insights don’t always mean complicated interventions.
Often, telemedicine and medical collaboration are conflated with fancy interventions and high-flying specialists. But as this story shows, crucial insights don't always mean complicated interventions (in this case, it was a 10-second cut with a laser.)
We certainly applaud Mason's parents for hanging in there, and getting him the support he needed as soon as it was available -- and we hope that Mason's dentist gave herself a good pat on the back at the end of that day. We also know that these simple miracles of healthcare collaboration happen every day -- and for many creative and caring providers, it's a matter of the routine magic they make happen.
For more stories of medical collaboration, download our quick guide: