Your Path to Program Success: Expert Advice

Creating a Top-Performing Cath Lab Team: The Importance of Communication

Jessica Bricker, Recruiter, and Carol Dombrowicki, Recruiter, Corazon, Inc., Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Jessica Bricker, Recruiter, and Carol Dombrowicki, Recruiter, Corazon, Inc., Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Communication is more than just words. It’s about sharing ideas and information, and most importantly, it’s about listening. Telling a person something and communicating are two very different things. Real communication involves an exchange, making listening a critical component of the interaction. In any industry, one of the most challenging aspects of teamwork has always been achieving effective communication. This is especially true in healthcare, where communication can mean the difference between life and death for a patient, or success or failure of an initiative. More specifically, in terms of cardiovascular programs, the magnitude of relationship-building through communication cannot be ignored. The impact of this specialty on the financial solvency of an organization, along with the continually-increasing patient need for all types of cardiovascular care, cause this specialty to be considered among the most important for hospital-wide success. And, considering the varied clinical and administrative professionals involved in creating a successful program, communication should be the first priority. Professional communications within the cardiac cath lab are vital to the effective day-to-day operations. Open communication can have a positive impact on the overall cardiovascular service line — especially when teams across the continuum of delivery work together for the benefit of the program and in the best interest of the patient. We recommend the following proven techniques in order to improve communication: 1. Hold standing meetings with the cath lab staff. A regularly-scheduled date and time provides a forum in which attendees are encouraged to give their input on various topics. These meetings also send the message that opinions are valued, therefore making the team feel more involved in the decision-making. Further, with regular opportunities to contribute, the team will be more likely to share their thoughts and concerns, and/or ideas and feedback. And, most importantly, regularly scheduled meetings with the cath lab staff can have a positive impact on departmental operations and patient outcomes. 2. Hold quarterly meetings with other departments. True communication isn’t restricted to those within just one department or one team. Other teams within the organization (e.g., the ancillary and emergency departments) can offer valuable insights into policies, procedures, and processes, just based on their interaction with the cath lab. 3. Include physicians in the communication loop. Communication between the cardiac cath lab staff and physicians should be open, honest and straightforward because “time is money,” especially for a busy cardiologist who is working to balance a schedule of multiple priorities, including procedures, office hours, inpatient care delivery and personal commitments. Further, inviting them to meetings can encourage them to be an integral part of the team, thereby fostering buy-in from this key stakeholder group of the cath lab. Chances are their schedules will not permit participation at every meeting, but this effort will do much to facilitate collaboration within the department. With a mix of physicians, nurses, managers, technologists and other ancillary staff in the cath lab, achieving successful communication can be a challenge. In fact, we have found that one of the biggest hurdles our clients face in cardiac cath lab management is the establishment of an integrated team approach — which begins with effective communication. Administration, physicians and staff all need to interact with each other at one time or another. Each member serves as a vital part of the team, bringing unique knowledge, skills and perspective to their role. A team that cannot communicate effectively can compromise patient flow, procedure scheduling and patient outcomes, and negatively impact the program as a whole by fostering low morale, high turnover and so on, which can have a huge financial impact on the organization’s bottom line. Overcoming communication challenges will allow for easier and more effective relationships to be established. One example of effective communication is the procedure “time out,” wherein the patient’s information is called out to the entire staff by the directed coordinator, allowing for information sharing about the upcoming case. Part of the national patient safety goals governed by the Joint Commission, every cardiac cath lab should complete this exercise before a procedure begins in order to ensure the right procedure is being performed on the right patient at the right time, using the correct technique. Another example where we have seen the entire cardiovascular service line benefit with regard to communication is through the use of technology. The best example of technology to increase communication within the cath lab is an electronic scheduling system. The entire daily schedule of the cardiac cath lab can be completely altered if just one case takes longer then anticipated. Based on Corazon’s relationships with hospitals nationwide, we strongly believe that dry erase boards and scheduling books are the way of the past. There are many optimal scheduling systems available that will help communication within the cath lab and the entire service line. Electronic scheduling systems: • Allow scheduling for multiple rooms and procedures more efficiently, as patient appointments can be adjusted for emergencies, or when space or staff is unavailable. • Eliminate scheduling conflicts and double-booking of rooms, equipment, physicians and staff due to a central storehouse for the data. • Update changes in real time and broadcast up-to-date schedules to the entire hospital instantly. • Automatically incorporate nonproductive time for staff changes or room repairs. • Save time and create efficiencies through remote updating capabilities. Cardiologists struggle with the unpredictability and length of their days spent in the cath lab, while hospital administrators are concerned about staff overtime caused by process inefficiencies. That is why it is critical that the cath lab team creates an accurate and reliable scheduling system. Not only does it increase efficiency, but it puts everyone on the same page, causing fewer problems, as a result of better communication. Such examples of communication techniques and relationship building are just some of the many ways to ensure operational and financial success in the cath lab. Every member has responsibility to communicate in ways that will best serve the patient and, as a result, the program overall. Other relationships that should be fostered within the cath lab are as follows: • Physician-physician relationships. The common goal for any physician should be to improve the health of the community he or she is serving, and the overall performance of the cath lab. Physicians working collaboratively can help stream-line patient flow, increase productivity, and reduce costs with equipment and technology. Managers should encourage staff and physicians to speak openly with one another, and not promote rumors or favoritism. • Physician-cath lab manager relationships. There are numerous areas within the cath lab that can suffer without proper management oversight. In fact, Corazon has discovered that it is often the cath lab manager who directs the communications between the interventional cardiologists and/ or cardiology practices. This may be one of the factors that help a cardiologist choose to perform their procedures at one particular cath lab. • Physician-staff relationships. Team members should be knowledgeable about each physician’s skill set. We have found that when staff members share “lessons learned” with one another, it helps facilitate an understanding of what dynamics work well with one physician versus another. • Physician-patient relationships. Referrals are often based on word-of-mouth, so it is crucial to the success of any hospital for a physician to bring a sense of confidence, compassion and trust to the patient during their encounters. The competition among hospitals today is increasing, and the value of staff and physician satisfaction cannot be underestimated. Strong relationship building and effective communications will significantly enhance satisfaction. When a team works together to make everyone’s job easier, clinical and operational success will follow. The success of a cardiac program often relies on the degree of success the team members achieve in communication. Keeping a program and team going strong by working together as partners that can openly share ideas, voice concerns and provide constructive feedback can go a long way toward the creation of efficient operations. Jessica Bricker and Carol Dombrowicki are Recruiters at Corazon, offering consulting, recruitment and interim management for the heart, vascular and stroke specialties. Visit for more information. Jessica can be contacted at: Carol can be contacted at: