The Key to Women’s Health: Collaboration

Collaborative practice is the true hallmark of highly-functioning ob-gyn practices and medical systems. When we use the term ‘collaborative practice,’ we need to focus on the elements that make collaboration a success for our patients.

ACOG benefits when we collaborate with our partner organizations to improve women’s health. The past two weeks have demonstrated extraordinary collaboration.

Dr. Haywood Brown, Chair of District IV, recently led ACOG’s new Well-Woman Task Force, gathering experts from numerous specialties, including physicians from family practice, ob-gyn, pediatrics, and internal medicine, along with nurse midwives, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants. He asked his colleagues to collaborate and define the elements of the annual well-woman visit. Women see a variety of health care practitioners, so we need to ensure that we are consistently addressing the same common elements during a well-woman visit, regardless of patient age or health care provider. The meeting brought focus to the importance of ‘Every Woman, Every Time’ that places women’s health and reproductive needs together.

Carrying on with the collaborative theme, the Council on Patient Safety in Women’s Health Care, convened under Dr. Paul Gluck’s expertise, brought together ob-gyns, family practice doctors, anesthesiologists, midwives, and nurse practitioners, along with the Joint Commission, American Hospital Association, and many others. This group’s “Three Bundles, Three Years” initiative is aimed at improving birth outcomes in every birthing location in the US by tackling the three of the most common complications we see in labor and delivery:

  • Hemorrhage: Every center will have a guideline in place so that we respond effectively when a hemorrhage occurs.
  • Hypertension: Every center will implement the hypertension guidelines outlined recently by ACOG’s Task Force Report on Hypertension in Pregnancy.
  • Blood clots: Every center will focus on reducing the risks of clotting complications, such as pulmonary embolism.

At the SMFM meeting, Dr. George Saade brought together experts to address “Pregnancy as a Window to Women’s Health,” a day-long symposium co-hosted by SMFM, ACOG, and NICHD. We can predict a woman’s risk for later health problems—notably diabetes and hypertension—by evaluating her pregnancy complications or disease processes. Out of this collaborative symposium will eventually come recommendations for care and guidance for future research.

I have already started discussing with my patients at their first prenatal visit how their pregnancy will be a “window to future health.” Afterall, the patient-provider relationship is one of the most important collaborations in our careers.


“I Don’t Get It”—How Not to Miss the Point at Your Next Doctor Visit

“You know what I mean?” It’s a common phrase that many of us use every day. We check in to confirm that our listener gets our point. Understanding and being understood are integral to daily communications with others. Yet, in the doctor’s office, misunderstandings are not uncommon, and can result in life or death situations.

Nearly half of all Americans, including highly educated people, have a hard time understanding health information. Patients who don’t fully understand their health condition, treatment options, or the importance of taking medication as directed may be in for trouble. They are at increased risk for hospitalization, encounter more barriers to getting necessary health care services, and are less likely to understand their doctor’s medical advice, which can lead to poor outcomes, including death. Better comprehension of health-related information and services—or health literacy—can lead to better health decision-making and overall well-being.

Getting physicians to speak in plain English is one part of the equation. To that end, ACOG and the American Medical Association have developed guidance for health professionals to help them better communicate with their patients.

Patients can also do their part to improve their understanding. Try the following tips at your next doctor’s visit:

  • Ask your doctor to speak in simple and plain language
  • Consider bringing a friend or relative with you who can help you interpret and remember what your doctor said
  • Take careful notes throughout your visit and read them back to your doctor to make sure you fully understand what’s been said and what you’re supposed to do after the visit
  • If you’re confused by something, don’t be afraid to ask your doctor to repeat the information

For more tips, check out ACOG’s Patient Fact Sheet “Making the Most of Your Health Care Visit”.

Put Your Cell Phone Down and Operate

Advances in technology have enabled us all to be connected in ways unimaginable just a few years ago. From practically anywhere, we can send and receive texts and emails, pull up websites, and use apps to access a wealth of information with a push of a button. A recent New York Times article highlighted how computer and smartphone technology has also made its way into the hospital setting and surgery room.

Admittedly, these technologies can be wonderful tools for improving the health and well-being of our patients. But we can quickly lose sight of the very real downside these gadgets can pose to our patients. It would seem to be common sense that personal calls, texts, and online surfing have no place in the operating room, in our clinics, or in hospital areas where patient care is ongoing.

As these devices become even more ubiquitous and the pressure to immediately respond and constantly check in can be great, we must recognize that we cannot focus on our patients if we are simultaneously glued to our smartphone or tablet. Just as there has been a great deal of awareness about the dangers of texting or talking on a cell phone while driving (or even walking!), we must focus awareness on the patient safety risks with the same technology-related problems. 

As physicians, our priority is always the patient. To this end, we need to eliminate unnecessary distractions when we are taking care of our patients. Hospitals and medical practices should develop and institute firm policies about how and when these technologies can be used…and when they cannot.