“When we look at the healthcare system, the success or failure of patient care is very much tied to the success or failure of the people that provide patient care,” says Zubin Austin, professor and chair of pharmacy management at the University of Toronto.
His lab’s research into what makes healthcare work for the people who provide it is particularly timely given the current global pandemic. COVID-19 is stretching our health resources, and it’s particularly important in emergencies like these to reflect on what makes healthcare systems resilient.
“I’m a big believer in teams and teamwork,” adds PhD student Jennifer Lake. “A primary care team has a lot of different types of professionals on it: physicians, nurses, nurse practitioners. Patients benefit when they have the same providers for a long period of time.”
But keeping patients together with the same care team starts with investing in people and actually building strong and long-lasting teams. And it turns out that the investment we put in now is rewarded not just with better patient outcomes, but also significant cost savings.
“People are happier. There’s less burnout when they’re on teams where they feel valued, where they know they’re contributing, if they’re working well together, if they’re a high-efficiency team,” says Lake.
“That will actually help impact healthcare costs. We’ll be able to deliver better care or more care with the same money that we’re already putting in. And that’s a huge impact in Canada because we spent a lot of money on healthcare. It’s a big line item.”
Healthcare is also a field where things change rapidly as new research and clinical options emerge all the time. However, no matter how much of an improvement a new idea or treatment may be, patients will only see the benefit when healthcare providers are able to adapt their practices just as quickly. That’s an incredibly tall order, and one that PhD student Naomi Steenhof tries to train her students to prepare for early on.
“When I’m teaching my students, I have to not just be concerned about teaching them facts and things that they need to know right now, but how am I going to prepare them for 30 years in the future when there’s medications or technologies that I’m not even aware of right now?” says Steenhof.
“We’re spending a lot of money on these new medications and technologies, but if we’re not thinking about how to train practitioners to be able to utilize them appropriately, society may not end up seeing the benefits that they could.”
When healthcare teams are strong and can learn and grow together, that’s the ideal situation for everyone. Austin adds that “as policies change, finding a way of bringing all of these different groups together and helping them to see that our work should be aligned in a way that allows us to all row in the same direction is a really gratifying part of what I get to do.”