Team-Tested Practices

Physicians on Partnership: Teamwork Works, Says This Doc

Teamwork is as critical in the medical office as it is in the operating room, says Eric Cain, MD.

When Kaiser Permanente researchers determined that hip fractures could be reduced by 37 percent through proactive measures, the chief of Orthopedic Surgery, Podiatry and Sports Medicine at the Fremont Medical Center went straight to his department’s unit-based team.

It was a good move: As of August 2010, the department had increased osteoporosis screenings for at-risk patients to a stunning 71 percent, from less than 20 percent the year before, becoming one of the highest performers in Northern California.

When he approached the team, recalls Eric Cain, MD, “we talked about the benefits and the steps involved (to increase screenings). We worked out the details, the processes and the competencies—and we agreed to do it.”

Teamwork, says Dr. Cain, is as critical in the medical office as it is in the operating room.

There’s an openness, a two-way dialogue, and that’s critical because often the best solutions come from the frontline staff.

Eric Cain, MD
Chief of Orthopedic Surgery, Podiatry and Sports Medicine, Fremont Medical Center

No more "I tell, you do"

“In a traditional office, the role of the physician was, ‘I tell, you do.’ In today’s world, where the focus is on providing patient-centered care, it’s critically important that everyone in the department have a voice,” he says. “That may be uncomfortable for some doctors—they don’t want to be seen as weak. But being open to new ideas is a much better place to be.”

The department’s unit-based team members—and its patients—have benefited from Dr. Cain’s open-mindedness.

“They know they can come to me with anything, and that if a patient shows up without an appointment, I’m happy to see them,” he says.

And it’s a two-way street, he notes: “We are mutually accountable. If I’m going to be late, I let them know. If they come to me with a problem, I’ll challenge them to be the problem solvers rather than being the only one solving problems.”

Collaborating with the department’s unit-based team has been key to improving patient care, Dr. Cain says.

“Whenever I have an idea, I take it to them and we discuss it,” he says. “There’s an openness, a two-way dialogue, and that’s critical because often the best solutions come from the frontline staff.”

Working in partnership not only improves morale but also patient care, Dr. Cain says. “When your approach is patient-centered, you need to have a team of people providing patient care. And it has to be driven by passion and an almost religious fervor. Ultimately you have to ask yourself, ‘How would I like to be treated? How do I want my family members to be treated?’ ”

Better patient care

The department was operating as a team when Dr. Cain joined Kaiser Permanente in 2002. Forming a unit-based team was a natural progression that formalized the department’s existing team-oriented approach to patient care.

Particularly because he’s experienced better patient care as one of the benefits of partnership, Dr. Cain encourages fellow physicians to work within their unit-based teams.

“It’s absolutely critical that the staff is empowered to speak up,” he says. “It’s a change of focus for many docs, but they can learn a lot….Unit-based teams are a good way of working together. It’s a good way of doing business. It’s good for the patients and it’s good for the employees.”

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