We all know that in a hospital, we work as a team. And within that team, certain relationships develop. Now this isn't going to be a post about "Grey's Anatomy"-like activity in the on-call rooms. No, this is going to be a post about navigating relationships with various members of the healthcare team to best serve the patient's needs. Specifically, I'm going to address three groups: doctors, nurses and social workers/discharge planners.
Doctors are tough to figure out, I think. They come in with different practice backgrounds, treatment philosophies and general opinions about what is in their patients' best interests. Their age, gender and ethnicity also play a role in how we as therapists interact with them. At my hospital, we have physicians who have been practicing medicine longer than even my parents have been alive (my mother wouldn't appreciate me telling you this, but my parents are in their 60s). On the flip side, we have new residents who look like they're barely old enough to be out of high school, let alone medical school! I've found that when interacting with physicians, regardless of what "baggage" they come in with, communication is key.
I've found most older physicians don't like a lot of information; they would rather me just tell them the "need-to-know" stuff so they can make whatever medical decisions are necessary. Younger physicians tend to want more information. They tend to ask more questions and sometimes even want to hear the "story" behind the patient rather than just what my recommendations are. So communicating the right information in the right way, I think is a critical part of developing a strong relationship with a physician.
Nurses: the "saints" of health care. Without them, well... can you imagine a physician handing out morning medications or helping change a patient's soiled diaper? I don't think so. Now, of course, nurses are blessings to all of us for many more reasons than just these. In my hospital, our therapy staff works hand in hand with nurses to ensure our patients aren't just getting up and moving around when a therapist is present. They're often the first to recognize the need for PT or other rehab services and can alert physicians to this need. I can't even begin to count the number of times they've helped convince patients to actually participate during a therapy session or offered physical assistance to me during a difficult transfer or even helped ward off unrelenting family members. Their services are invaluable and I think this relationship, in order for our patients to have successful recoveries, is paramount.
Finally, our social workers and discharge planners. For those who work in acute care, I'm sure you've all felt, at one time or another, that you're nothing more than an evaluation machine who spits out discharge recommendations, then moves on to the next evaluation, and so on and so forth. These can make for long days and sore backs for sure, but by cultivating a solid relationship with these social workers and discharge planners, I think we can ensure our patients are set up for the best chance to recover and avoid readmission.
At our hospital, our social workers are fantastic individuals who don't just care about discharge plans, but rather actually show a general sense of caring for the patient's needs. They can often be seen sitting in a patient's room having difficult conversations with patients and families. Or they will be on the phone with rehab facilities or acute rehab centers trying to coordinate bed availability. Or perhaps the most daunting task of all, dealing with the dreaded insurance companies to see what coverage is available for a patient. Regardless, much like PTs they are constantly moving. They are constantly active and by working closely with them, we as PTs can help reinforce the safest plan for our patients once they walk out our doors.
Developing positive relationships in the workplace is essential, regardless of what setting or field you work in. In healthcare, it's my biased belief that these relationships are more important than any other field, because the decisions we as the healthcare team make and plans we develop for our patients ultimately exist to improve our patients' lives. To improve human life... isn't that worth taking the time to cultivate healthy, positive relationships with our coworkers?