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Can Patients Really Judge Our Teamwork?

Healthcare has long asked patients to tell us how well we work together as a team. Having been a part of many of those teams over the years, I often wonder: On what grounds do patients have to judge us on team performance? After all, they don’t see us communicating at the nurses’ station or hear the phone calls that are made regarding orders or plan of care. Admittedly, they may see an exchange at their bedside between a doctor and a nurse, or they may sense how well the discharge instructions are written when each specialty or sub-specialty signs off and the nurse is left to decipher the outcome.

I recently had some insight into how they may have some knowledge of how to evaluate our teamwork. I travel a lot, and often have the opportunity to be one of the first passengers on a plane. I hear much of the conversation between the captains and the flight crew before most of the passengers board, and I can’t help but notice that they introduce themselves by telling each other where they’re from. They often find common ground, sometimes with a laugh.

I notice all of that.

When the pilot introduces himself, he also introduces the crew and speaks highly of them, promising that they are the best and that we will be well cared for. In turn, the crew respects the wishes of the captain and his judgment on safety protocols.

I notice those things.

The point is this: We don’t have to be privy to all the communication that goes on within teams, but we can pick up on nuances and clues that tell us of the respect that team members have for each other. In the case of the captains and flight crews, I love the fact that, though their areas of expertise vary and they aren’t physically in the same space, they are a fully functioning team that has my best interest as a passenger in mind.

I notice that too.

The patient’s full-time job is to watch and listen to us. They are always evaluating how well we work together and know that they have everything to win or lose depending on how well we work together.

Patients notice those things.

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