Many moments throughout the history of medicine have redefined the patient experience. More recently, technology and new medical devices, as well as less invasive surgery, have significantly improved the care we deliver.
Yet, as clinicians, there's still one change we can make now that will make a remarkable difference for those who matter most—break down the specialty silos. We know that the healthcare system can handle it. And, more important, our patients need it.
Throughout the COVID-19 crisis, for example, we have seen specialists go where they're most needed, even if it has meant working outside of their expertise. At the pandemic's height, cardiologists helped some of the sickest patients in the emergency department, lending a much-needed, fresh approach to a new, serious problem.
In this crisis, regulations became more relaxed to allow healthcare to become a nimble, creative force that could respond to constantly evolving parameters. The 2020 mantra of the pandemic moving the goalposts couldn't be more true, as we collaborated to put patients first.
Why can't multidisciplinary care be the norm for medicine today, especially as we approach fresh beginnings emerging from this deadly pandemic? I've personally taken this concept to heart, pursuing dual specialties in both neurosurgery and orthopedic surgery, a move that allows me to see how academic medical centers can help patients receive the most comprehensive care.
Neurosurgery, in particular, lends itself to multidisciplinary work—a necessary diversity of medical and surgical views. Not only do we have a natural professional kinship with our colleagues in neurology, but we also frequently collaborate with orthopedic surgeons, physiatrists, physical therapists, pain management specialists, oncologists, plastic surgeons and many others. To offer our patients the most thoughtful, effective care, these collaborations, too, need to become organic partnerships.
Multiple perspectives also can keep patients from getting lost in a labyrinth of medical services. They don't want to be faceless with faceless care. They deserve better. And we can personally guide them—with the full power of an integrated health system rooted in basic research, teaching and clinical care—to the best outcome possible, all the way through to their follow-up care.
At Northwell Health, where I now lead neurosurgery, patients facing all types of medical situations come to us through the different doors, and sometimes navigating care can be arduous. But we will always connect them using our large, integrated network. Multidisciplinary care ensures they are seamlessly transitioned to the right place at the right time.
Speaking for neurosurgery again, it's not uncommon for a patient with complaints of persistent, long-term lower back pain to visit a surgeon—first. What if that surgeon sees just one way to help the patient, to perform surgery? It brings to mind the adage about a person who has only a hammer and sees everything as a nail. The patient suffering from lower back pain may not necessarily need surgery if a specialist with a new look at their symptoms sees that they might benefit from help from pain management, or perhaps a strength training program.
On the flip side, patients may find it difficult to navigate a large academic medical center or integrated health system, especially for those experiencing complex symptoms and prognoses. We can help by consulting regularly with our colleagues; making sure patients see the right departments in the right time frame; and acting as a consistent, supportive team.
Patients shouldn't feel overwhelmed. It's our job to connect patients and our colleagues, brainstorming and discussing treatment options and timelines, and even coordinating referrals and appointments.
The bottom line: If we remain in our professional silos, we won't learn from some of the lessons that have come out of the pandemic. We won't take advantage of the value we collectively brought our patients at one of the most stressful times in healthcare history. This is a prime opportunity to integrate our expertise to offer better and more individualized medical and surgical care, leading to vastly better patient outcomes.
We can build stronger connections with our patients when we share and accept fresh professional perspectives.