Toward a More Effective Collaboration by Aaron Fletcher, MD
As a discipline Otolaryngology has long recognized the benefits and virtues of a collaborative model of healthcare delivery. In fact, I believe that few other medical specialties collaborate as frequently and as effectively as Otolaryngologists—it is an integral part of our culture. On a daily basis, we are called to collaborate with specialists of diverse expertise (Audiologists, Speech and Language Pathologists, Neurosurgeons, Radiologists, Radiation Oncologist, Medical Oncologists and so on). In consulting these experts, we recognize the knowledge of these specialists as complimentary to our own and no less valuable. In fact, we frequently congregate in multi-disciplinary conferences where everyone has a say, and everyone’s opinion counts.
As our specialty embarks upon a changing healthcare landscape, we are constantly challenged to evolve our collaborative process in order to keep pace with the expanding application of technology across healthcare.This collaborative spirit is one of the major reasons that I enjoy this specialty. One of the things I appreciate most about Otolaryngology is the opportunity to learn the subtle nuances of a diagnostic finding, condition or technique that are afforded by colleagues and other members of the treatment team. Throughout my very young career, I’ve found that better collaboration invariably leads to better care and that to be successful; collaboration requires shared vision, values, risks, resources, and rewards regardless of function, occupation or level of training. This is truly what collaborative care is all about.
The ubiquity of internet access via mobile devices and smartphones, along with the rise of social media has changed the way in which health care information is distributed and consumed. This factor has allowed patients ample access to information about their health conditions and associated treatment options. A recent Pew Internet research study found that one in three adults have turned to online sources to figure out a medical condition that they or someone else they know might have1. Combining these internet resources with expanded mobile network technology means that patients are increasingly capable of seeking answers to their healthcare questions instantaneously. This means that patients are now empowered to become more active participants in their care, and this is certainly a good thing.
On the other hand, these factors also exert pressure upon caregivers to keep pace with these changes in health related information consumption by increasing technological sophistication and improving their own access to medical knowledge. By doing so, we are better suited to meet the demands of a patient population that is better equipped to make important healthcare
As the application of technology across the healthcare landscape has led to a greater sense of empowerment among patients, advancements in health IT, (including electronic health records, cloud computing and health information exchange platforms), also hold great promise for clinicians. The advent of these tools has empowered clinicians to mobilize and share clinical information with members of the treatment team at any time and from any location with internet access. Given the intrinsic collaborative nature of our field, it makes perfect sense that we leverage these technologies to expand our approach to coordinating collaborative care. HIPPA compliant hosting and file sharing networks are now working to mitigate the risk of exchanging protected health information (PHI) via the web and mobile devices. These networks work to encrypt PHI both in storage and in-transit, thereby providing a layer of protection against breaches in security. While these platforms should be used with caution to ensure compliance with HIPPA regulations, as these tools continue to evolve, they will create new opportunities for collaboration and partnership across traditional institutional and geographic boundaries.
Naturally, I believe that Otolaryngologists should be at the forefront of integrating these tools into clinical practice, as we continue to seek new ways of perfecting collaborative care. I believe ubiquitous data accessibility and sharing (cloud computing) coupled with HIPPA-compliant hosting platforms have the ability not only to facilitate, but to enhance the way we collaborate. Using these tools we can share best practices and treatment protocols, coordinate video conferences with colleagues outside our geographic area, and obtain outside expertise about challenging cases. These tools also allow us to interface with patients about their care, and to provide them a portal to share relevant updates on their condition from the comfort of their home. All of these efforts are critical to the long-term success of our collaborative efforts as a specialty, and familiarity with the tools by which we accomplish these aims is imperative.
So as we embark upon a continually evolving paradigm of healthcare consumption and delivery, we must continue in the spirit of collaboration, and seek out the new tools of our trade. By doing so, we can continue to demonstrate that better collaboration leads to better care.
1. Fox, Susannah, Duggan, Maeve: Health Online 2013. Accessed online via http:// pewinternet.org/Reports/2013/Health-online.aspx
Dr. Fletcher is the author of the just-published Comprehensive Otolaryngology Review: A Case-Based Approach