By Aine Cryts
A team-based approach to care is essential to keeping patients out of the hospital. Therefore, physician practices must make better use of non-physician practitioners (NPPs), according to a recent Medical Economics article.
Practices that allow their NPPs to work to the highest levels of their job descriptions are more efficient, improve patient access and take in more revenue, wrote Edward Bujold, M.D., in a recent commentary for the Annals of Family Medicine.
Bujold, who runs a small practice in rural western North Carolina, attributes the positive results to the fact the approach allows his staff to feel like they are important members of his team. "Each member of the staff now feels his or her contributions to the team make a difference in our patients' healthcare, he wrote. "I will never again make a major decision in our clinic without first getting input from our entire team. Team members now feel their opinions matter. This process has empowered them to be better employees, and I have seen my staff grow personally and professionally as a result of our transformation."
To get the most out of team-based care, the Medical Economics article recommends these practices:
- Assign NPPs their own patient panels. Experts recommend that practices distribute patient panels across their providers, rather than delegating certain visit types to nurse practitioners and physician assistants. Bujold, for example, usually assigns most of his primary care practice's new patients to one of his nurse practitioners, though some patients may "level up" to his panel if they develop new or more serious conditions.
- Allow ready communication. Encourage NPPs to consult with physicians any time they feel unsure about a case. Meet regularly to exchange ideas about how to best address certain patients' needs, added Debra P. McGrath, president of DPM Healthcare Consulting.
- Merge complementary skills. One way to structure team-based care is to assign a group of NPPs and other professionals, such as a nutritionist, behavioral health specialist and registered nurse to support one or two other providers, according to McGrath. Be sure, however, that such "teamlets" are built thoughtfully. "You don't want to put your two most disorganized people who have wonderful people skills in the same teamlet," McGrath said. "You want to have adequate people skills and good organizational skills."