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The Future of Care Coordinator-Physician Collaboration

If you’re a care coordinator, your value to home care patients is enormous. But how well aware are other health care professionals of the contributions you make? For example, do always you receive the full cooperation of all of the physicians you work with?

The truth is, there are often obstacles to getting busy professionals to collaborate—even though it’s almost always in the best interest of patients. It’s unfortunate. Because as chronic disease rates rise, patients are requiring better-coordinated home care.

Luckily, there are ways to foster positive relationships in order to improve coordination. One of them is through sharing. By providing doctors with important health information about their patients, care coordinators have a chance to strengthen their relationships with these professionals. More importantly, they have the opportunity to improve patient-centred care.

In this post, we’ll explore some of the benefits of acting as a resource for physicians—and how best to do it.

A relationship worth cultivating

It’s an unfortunate truth: positive change doesn’t always come easily. This is certainly the case when it comes to health care. Though the Ontario government has recognized the need for better-coordinated home care, overhauling the system is going to take time.

Consider the attitudes of many long-time care practitioners. For years (and in many cases decades), veteran physicians have been making things work for their patients.
But the needs of many of these patients are changing.

As a care coordination professional, you know all about these changes. You know that chronic diseases rates are rising (by as much as 56% by 2020, according to the World Health Organization). You know that these rates mean increasingly complex care. And you’re aware of how this care must be carried out—through patient-focused, multidisciplinary teams. Often, these teams will include many professionals.

In this new health care climate, cooperation is crucial. Across circles of care, professionals need to adapt and take on new responsibilities—together.

While a lot doctors are fully embracing the change, it can seem like a big adjustment to others. In some cases, physicians may not be entirely sure of the responsibilities of care coordinators. And it can be difficult to communicate productively with team members when you aren’t fully aware of the value they provide.

Ontario patients and their families have expressed a desire for better, more synchronized care. Through the creation of organizations like Health Links, government officials have proven they’re listening.

Improved coordination has officially become a major province-wide goal. And as a care coordinator, you’re playing a vital role in meeting it. Increasingly, doctors and other health care practitioners understand this.

As collaboration becomes the norm, it’s patients and their family members who will benefit most.

Care coordinators as a resource

To provide the highest possible quality of care, health professionals have to work together. Communication is key, especially in home care.

Of course, care coordinators are central to this communication. For this reason, the relationship between coordinators and other care team members—doctors included—is critical.

Moving forward, information will be one of the core links in the care coordinator-doctor relationship. It goes without saying that coordinators need patient medical histories from practitioners in order to build a workable care plans. But the flow of information can go both ways.

Let’s start by considering the value of data in health care. According to a recent survey, 87% of health care leaders believe big data will have at least some impact on their organization, and two thirds have high expectations for its potential.

It’s clear that decision makers are starting to see the value of utilizing information. As time goes on, medical professionals are following their lead. Large volumes of patient data can help practitioners see trends related to those they treat.

But from a physician’s point of view, this may not be the most useful application for this type of information.

Often, it’s care coordinators who spend the most time gathering vital patient information. Yet it’s usually a patient’s primary care doctor who makes major treatment decisions.

Frequent weight, glucose, and blood pressure measurements—just imagine how useful this type of information could be for doctors. Say a care coordinator collects this information from a patient three times a week. Generally, that’s far more often than a single doctor is going to see her.

Big data reveals patterns that provide analysts with actionable information. With regard to an individual patient’s data, the principle is the same. And in many cases, it’s physicians who are best positioned to take action.

Setting up better information-sharing systems

So, how might the information that you collect as a care coordinator lead to beneficial action from physicians? And how can health care agencies set up systems that make this type of sharing possible?

Let’s return to our example in the previous section. Say you check in with a patient who has diabetes three times per week. In addition to other information, you measure his weight, glucose levels, and blood pressure.

His primary care physician, who’s only able to see him once a month, could benefit greatly from these measurements. She might notice, for example, that her patient’s glucose levels spike on weekends. Maybe his blood pressure goes up during certain times of year, and he gains significant weight during the holidays.

Armed with this information, the doctor can offer better, more specific advice to her patient. She can ask important questions about work stress, eating habits, and exercise (among other possible factors). If necessary, she prescribe medications to help him deal with issues that are highlighted by the data.

But can care coordinators feasibly provide this type of information? In order to so, you’ll have to leverage digital technology.

Health care apps are making it easier than ever to capture patient vitals and other data remotely. Care coordinators can use communication apps to with storage capabilities to capture and document patient information remotely. Alternatively, they can coach patients via videoconference to take their own measurements. Just make sure that the technology you use supports secure sharing.

For doctors, electronic medical records are often the most convenient way to receive up-to-date patient information. To ensure the smooth flow of data from care coordinators to physicians, decision makers in home care organizations should look for communication apps that integrate easily with EMR systems.

Improved sharing for a better system

With the right patient information, physicians are well positioned to provide care that will result in better outcomes. In many cases, it’s care coordinators who can provide them with what they need.

In addition to improving the overall care of patient, data sharing can lead to better overall care coordinator-physician relationships. This is important. Because when health care professionals work together, the system is stronger.

Feature image courtesy of Mark Morgan

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