As a medical student sitting in an enormous lecture hall with 100 of my closest friends at St. Elsewhere University, it is quite easy to be a team player. In school, they constantly drilled us about the crucial aspects of teamwork in medicine, and we all agreed that teamwork was essential for safe patient care. Future physicians must communicate clearly, respect others, and work together as a unit…right?
Explore This IssueACEP News: Vol 31 – No 04 – April 2012
Once you are out of the classroom and into a string of 13 straight overnight shifts, working with consultants whose egos are the size of “The Rock’s” biceps, I must admit, it is quite difficult to apply these teachings to your daily practice. There is no other place where this becomes more apparent than in the hustle and bustle of the emergency department.
The ED is the front line of any hospital. At times, it can seem like an actual war zone, with bursts of sudden chaos and nonstop movement of people and objects. As an emergency physician, you take people and situations as they come, often in the most unexpected of ways. However, sometimes a patient’s condition needs more care than we can provide, and years of medical training and multiple brilliant minds are just not enough. That’s when we, sometimes hesitantly, sometimes skeptically, call upon our colleagues for a second, or third or fourth opinion – the consultation.
In the ED, where time is everything, an effective consultation can save a life. Our single greatest asset as emergency physicians is the ability to talk. It is our skill in getting others to do what we want them to do, for the betterment of the patient, that is our saving grace in emergency medicine.
We have all bore witness to a bad consult. It seems to always start with, “Yeah, this is surgery.” Take a second to introduce yourself, and expect the same from the consultant. What happens when consultations go bad (a new TV show coming to an ED near you)? Does the patient benefit? Surely not. Think back to “hard on the issues, soft on the people,” as made famous by Fisher and Ury.
We all know just how important consultations and communication are in emergency medicine. So why is it that we do not have formal guidelines and training for them? The skill of an effective consultation seems to be a missing piece in medical training. Our research has taken on the challenge of analyzing this somewhat forgotten component, especially as it applies to EM consultations. In 2010, our three-phase study, “Consultation in the Emergency Department: A Qualitative Analysis and Review,” asked physicians what was most important for consultations