Recently, a consultant from MIT visited a frustrated manager at a call center. The manager was experiencing something that many medical providers have experienced at different times. He was struggling to figure out "why some of his teams got excellent results, while other, seemingly similar, teams struggled?" It's that same frustration we wonder about as providers: we feel "flow" and pride in giving excellent care at one place where we work, while everything seems difficult at a different hospital or location.
After months of data analysis, the call center folks found that the teams that performed best were those that communicated best: "we’ve found patterns of communication to be the most important predictor of a team’s success. Not only that, but they are as significant as all the other factors—individual intelligence, personality, skill, and the substance of discussions—combined."
So how can you improve communications? Well, the hospital lounge is evidence that we've known the answer all along. The call center made one simple change to try to improve communication: they adjusted break schedules so everyone could take a break, make a coffee, and have a conversation at the same time. That change had huge consequences. Soon, they were seeing such increases in efficiency that they anticipate a savings of $15 million per year.
And while medical providers tend to measure success more in terms of patient outcomes than in terms of efficiency, we think there are some interesting patterns to inform our providers for medical collaboration. The coffee-break solution helped cultivate good teamwork, but what are the characteristics of what a good team actually looks like?
5 things that turn a good group of people into a great team for medical collaboration, via HBR:
- Everyone on the team talks and listens in roughly equal measure with short communications. That's why the entire continuum of care -- nurses, aides, doctors, and everyone in between -- must be included in the care conversation.
- With conference room encounters, members face each other and have energetic conversations and gestures. With communication technologies this means feedback, prompt responses, and a simple thanks. Video conferences take time and money. But store-and-forward telemedicine tools allow for this kind of energetic exchange of ideas.
- Members connect with each other not just the group leader. The typical "hub and spoke" consultation doesn't allow all team members to collaborate or share information. Face to face conversations and some telemedicine can support these kinds of "horizontal" conversations.
- Members can carry on back-channel and side conversation with the team. We feel everyone, no matter where in the hierarchy, should be talking to each other.
- Members periodically break, explore outside the team and bring information back. While there's a place for efficiency and 100-hour weeks, we certainly think that medical providers benefit from not being excessively overworked and overtaxed. One benefit (among many) is that team members that have a little wiggle room in their schedule can bring back new ideas and information.