Teamwork in healthcare, essential

By Robert Merkel
11:27 AM

Ultimately, healthcare reform requires a comprehensive approach and should be treated with national urgency, specific targets and sustained commitments.  One aspect of the necessary transformation that is clear today is enabling greater collaboration in the delivery of care.

Despite growing evidence of the value of collaborative care, we have been slow to embrace the concept. I recently met with public and private leaders from several European countries and the benefits were compelling. Many countries, such as Denmark, Spain and Austria, have taken this approach to care and have combined real delivery model reform, patient care process change, and technology to make information readily available to doctors, other clinicians and patients to create compelling health outcomes.

The cornerstone of collaboration should begin with primary care. In Spain, the Institut Català de la Salut provides 83 percent of the primary healthcare in Catalonia. The Spanish recently underwent a complete transformation, putting the patient at the center of all of its processes. The results?  For patients, shorter waiting times for treatment, a single medical record with up-to-date health information, more accurate diagnoses and an integrated care delivery system that gives patients the same high standard of care whether they live in the city or in the countryside. 

In the United States, primary care is increasingly in focus as an opportunity to improve overall health. Individuals who regularly see a primary care provider report better health and outcomes, including decreased mortality rates, heart disease and strokes, longer life expectancies, fewer premature deaths and improved quality of life in patients with chronic disease such as asthma and diabetes. Patients with a primary care provider incur about a third less healthcare expense.  The Patient Centered Medical Home has also re-emerged as a critical success factor for not only fostering a tighter doctor-patient relationship but also as an enabler for improving the coordination of care. 

Sustainable value from Medical Homes will only be realized by holistic IT solutions. I listened to many top tier provider organizations that have shared “I’m already doing Medical Home.”  Indeed, many of their processes are consistent with Medical Home requirements -– but what happens when the patients leave the facility?  In order to transform healthcare delivery for the nation, holistic solutions require continuous and coordinated care delivery across all stakeholders, including small practices, labs and retail clinics.

We see growing evidence of the benefits health IT provides when used to bring together all segments of care delivery. More than three-quarters of primary care doctors in the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand use electronic records.  Denmark, with 5.3 million citizens, is recognized for its model of collaborative care, enabled by technology.  Individuals can manage their own health needs by connecting with their personal records and clinicians online.  Doctors have instant access to patient records, substantially cutting administrative costs and reducing clinical errors. 

Let’s not let the national debate stand in the way of transformation. Improving our collaboration today will enable profound transformation across the industry.

Robert Merkel is global healthcare industry leader, IBM Global Business Services. He leads a team of consultants worldwide helping healthcare stakeholders respond to their toughest challenges such as cost containment, quality and integration and collaboration. He can be reached at