4 Qualities Every Care Coordinator Should Have 

If you’re a care coordinator, you’re a crucial part of Ontario’s home care system. You make it possible practitioners from different disciplines to work together toward common goals. You also work closely with patients, ensuring they’re always at the centre of their care.

It’s not an easy job. Like nurses and family caregivers, you face the threat of burnout brought on by constant pressure. For this reason, it’s important that you’re well suited for the position.

Experience is the best teacher, which is why a background in an area such as nursing or social work can be so helpful. But there are also a few basic qualities that every care coordinator should have to achieve optimal patient outcomes—and avoid the consequences of ongoing stress.

In this post, we’ll look at a few of the traits that equip care coordinators like you for your many challenges.

1) Empathy

We’ll start with an obvious one. It goes without saying that all health care providers should be empathetic. Being able to put yourself in a patient’s shoes allows you understand her feelings and anticipate her needs.

For care coordinators, this trait is critically important. For each patient you work with, you have a detailed medical history. You also talk to care recipients about their wishes, fears, goals, preference.

As a result, you have a complete picture of what every patient is going through. Your comprehensive perspective allows you to truly understand patients— and improve their health care journeys.

But your relationship with empathy is particularly complex, due to the professionals you deal with. Because you talk to the various member of a patient’s care team, you can also understand their struggles when it comes to delivering high-quality care. By employing empathy, you can discover—and help practitioners overcome—some of the most significant obstacles to patient-centred care.

The power of this trait is undeniable. According to the Harvard Business Review (HBR), empathy can become an epidemic. Researchers have found that behaviours such as charitable giving are contagious within social networks.

The HBR article notes that this knowledge can be applied to health care. It’s time for an empathy epidemic in at-home care—and care coordinators are well positioned to lead the charge.

2) Communication skills

There’s no doubt that empathy is critical to patient-centred care. But merely understanding a patient—or a health care practitioner—isn’t enough. In order to translate your understanding into meaningful action, you need to be able to communicate effectively.

This is one area where you truly shine. As a care coordinator, you’re expected to truly get to know the patients you work with. You also have to speak to a wide variety caregivers and health care practitioners to make sure that care delivery is smooth.

Passing information along to a physician doesn’t always ensure that appropriate action will be taken. And telling a patient how to perform a particular self-care task doesn’t guarantee he’ll remember.

Time and again, studies show that patients frequently don’t understand their discharge instructions. This issue can lead to negative outcomes and decreased quality of life once patients get home.

Care coordinators know that listening is one of the keys to good communication. How could you create a care plan for a patient if you didn’t fully grasp her condition—and the many ways it impacts her life?

On average, patients are interrupted by physicians 18 seconds after they begin discussing their symptoms. This statistics is frequently quoted, and for good reason. When you create a patient’s coordinated care plan, listening—truly listening—is critical.

In short, you know the questions that need to be asked, and how to ask them. You’re also ready to answer questions in a way that each individual patient and care team member understands.

Communication is one of you’re greatest strengths as a care coordinator—and it’s a skill you should never stop developing.

3) Resilience

It’s no secret that nurses and physicians have to be resilient. Being on the front lines of care can be physically, psychologically, and emotionally draining. And because health care dollars are stretched to the limits, there’s constant pressure to provide better care while operating within budgetary constraints.

Most people know there’s a lot of stress involved in these professions. But a far smaller number of us are aware of the ongoing stress that care coordinators face.

It’s a time of transformation for home care in Ontario. While the province is making major strides in the right direction, insufficient resources can still cause significant challenges. In these circumstances, ensuring that care is properly coordinated for everyone who needs it is no easy task.

Taking care to manage anxiety—and your feelings—can help. According to one study, 90% of top performers are good at dealing with their emotions during times of stress.

In your profession, the stakes are high. Often, you’re dealing with patients who are struggling. As a result, your emotions can run high. As a care coordinator, you balance empathy with big-picture thinking in order to help them achieve the best possible health outcomes and quality of life.

4) Time management skills

The ability to manage your time is closely related to resilience. Dealing with stress means prioritizing the tasks that need to get done—and figuring out how to complete them in a timely manner.

In any job, time management can be a struggle. But when the health and wellbeing of patients is on the line, the pressure to complete tasks quickly can be especially intense. In your role as a care coordinator, you’ve likely encountered stressful situations where time is of the essence.

Health care professionals understand what it’s like to help people in distress. Frequently, physicians and other practitioners are there to provide immediate assistance. But coordinating this aid, whether it’s for the future or on short notice, requires a separate skill set.

Part of what makes your job so difficult is the necessity of setting priorities when it seems almost impossible to do so. Whose needs are greatest at any given time?

For individual patients, you have to simultaneously think about short and long term goals. What can reasonably be achieved in the weeks ahead? What does the big picture look like? And how can you mobilize care team members most efficiently?

Unfortunately, while planning can lead to predictable progress in many professions, the same can’t be said for care coordination. As much as possible, you have to prepare for the possibility that things can go wrong—and ensure you’ll find the time to deal with the new and pressing issues that arise.

Medscape recommends a number of time management practices for physicians, many of which could also work for care coordinators. Developing self awareness is a prime example. The most effective coordinators ask themselves questions about when and how they’re most productive. Completing less urgent tasks during these times is often the key to effective time management.

The overall value of a care coordinator

Of course, a care coordinator is more than just a collection of useful traits. Everyday, you carry out complex, interrelated tasks—many of which require an in-depth knowledge of the health care system. Having the necessary training, background, and experience is crucial.

That said, having the right temperament and a good basic skill set can make a huge difference. It’s not everyone who can do what you do. Consulting the right resources or attending the right conferences will only take a health care professional so far. The four traits listed above are part of what sets a great care coordinator apart from one who’s merely proficient.

Feature image courtesy of Angelo Amboldi

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