Patients and Family are Part of the Healthcare Team – Shelby Sun

Few weeks ago my wife, also a physician, and I attended a medical seminar on teamwork. A Navy pilot, Steve Harden, was teaching us teamwork skills from the aviation industry so that we could reduce medical errors in the healthcare setting.

The hotel ballroom was packed with 400 doctors with 10 doctors at each round table. We did several small group exercises, yet one exercise is still stuck in my head. Steve asked the doctors to write in our workbooks, “List of members on your healthcare team – people who help you deliver the best possible care to your patient.” We had 3 minutes to do the exercise.

As I was jotting names like nurse, pharmacist, unit coordinator, microbiology lab, and radiologist on my list, my wife was also working on hers. Steve asked few doctors to read from their list and most had what I had. I felt reassured, until Steve asked. “How many people have patient and family as part of their healthcare team?”. My list now looked barren.

Of the 400 doctors only about 4 raised their hands. One of them was my wife. I peeked over and sure enough “patient/family” was on her list. Then, like a flash of lightening it occurred to me. I has forgotten one of the most important resources that could help my patients improve – the patients themselves, their family and the community.

For example,  if a patient has diabetes, as healthcare providers we can write hundreds of prescriptions yet that will do little good if we do not take the time to educate the patient and the family about diet, exercise and the management of their disease. The goal is to have the patient take ownership of his disease and engage as a team player with the doctors, nurses, pharmacist and other healthcare providers to improve his/her own care.

A coalition called the Healthy Memphis Common Table (  has been formed to address this problem of engaging patients, families and the communities in improving health care. The common table is working with media, businesses, hospitals and doctors to focus on our community problem of obesity and diabetes.

The approach to improvement cannot be isolated because the delivery of healthcare is too complex. Doctors, patient, hospitals, families, communities and insurers must work together if we wish to deliver the best possible care. My wife knew it, I am still learning.