Mastering the Building Blocks of Team-Based Care

As more provider organizations embrace team-based care as a way to achieve their value-based care goals and provide a better patient experience, they’re also discovering that successfully implementing team-based care is easier said than done. Siloed information, conflicting cultures, competing interests, breakdowns in communication—these and other barriers can make it difficult for teams to work together in the interest of patient care. And when this happens, it’s not just the patients who suffer, says Kara Beech, owner of Beech Creative Group, a human resources consulting company.

Poorly executed team-based care can lead to lower reimbursements and increased administrative burden, not to mention burnout and employee dissatisfaction, says Beech, who previously worked in hospital HR.

The good news is, the building blocks of a unified team-based care approach—clearly defined roles and effective communication—are easy concepts to understand. Mastering them, however, might take some practice. Beech shares some of her best tips for team building below.

For more on team-based care and achieving optimal performance, tune into the Dec. 19 HealthTechS3 webinar, where you’ll hear more from Beech and Faith Jones, who leads HealthTechS3’s care coordinating and Lean consulting efforts.

Assembling a diverse team

When you’re building a team, Beech says it’s natural to want to include people you like. But that won’t get you far in team-based care. “When you’re friends, that probably means you have like minds, but when building a team you really need to make sure it’s as diverse as possible because people think differently,” she says. “If you have a problem you’re looking at, you want to have a variety of different mindsets on that problem.”

Including the right people on the team

Another natural inclination when team-building is to create a team of supervisors. While those voices and viewpoints can be helpful, they also have limitations—especially since they’re not the ones delivering the patient care day in and day out.

“Teams should definitely have supervisors and managers but take care to ensure your team is not all administration,” she says. “You also need the people who have the boots on the ground and who are primarily doing the day-to-day work.”

Agreeing on the goals and objectives

The overall goal of team-based care is easy to agree on—providing patient with the right care in the right setting, at the right time. But when you consider all of the various stakeholders that might make up a care team—primary care physicians and nurses, care coordinators from the patient’s insurance company, surgeons, home health nurses, family members, community partners—it becomes apparent quickly that all of these team members may disagree on the details.

“It’s so important, early on in the team-building process, to make sure that everyone is on the same page and working toward the same goal or objective,” Beech says. “And while all of these participants may not agree completely, can they come to a common ground?”

Setting the tone for the team

Over the course of her 20-year career, Beech says the No. 1 killer of teams is negative communication or toxic behavior. It helps to start the team on the right path by providing clear expectations about behavior, as well as some coaching around how to navigate negative communications or interactions. Any disruptive behavior needs to be addressed right away.  Beech even has provided the teams she works with key phrases to say when they believe a conversation is headed in a negative direction.

“It’s already a situation they don’t want to be in, because few of us enjoy confrontation,” she says. “Equipping them with some simple phrasing can help them diffuse the situation quickly and easily.”  Remind the team it is not about the person, but the process when there is conflict. 

Utilizing everyone’s strengths

Something people often forget about teams is that you don’t necessarily have to like the people on your team—“but you do have to figure out how to work together in a group and be respectful of the knowledge and information they bring to the table,” Beech says.

When a team doesn’t utilize someone’s strengths, it hurts that person, the team and, in the case of team-based care, the patient, as well.

Keeping the lines of communication open

Beech encourages teams to fully utilize their electronic health records to streamline communication and keep all team members up to date on patient status and next steps. It’s also important to make sure team members feel comfortable communicating.

“If team members don’t feel like their voices are heard, they might stop speaking up at all,” Beech says. “The first time you end up shutting someone down, they’re going to be less likely to share something in the future.”

And that’s too bad, she says, because they might have a unique insight into an issue or a set of skills that the team is otherwise lacking. “If a team cannot effectively communicate, they’re not going to be successful for themselves or their patients,” Beech says.