As a longtime member of the Society of Teachers of Family Medicine (STFM) and the incoming president of the Collaborative Family Healthcare Association (CFHA), I am both excited and a bit anxious about taking on this role at this time, because we are truly at a critical juncture. As health care providers and educators, we offer clinical services in a “system” that is about to either continue making important strides forward toward becoming a true system achieving meaningful outcomes or to slip backward into the free-for-all chaos that has complicated delivering good, patient-centered care for decades. We need to work together as members of STFM and CFHA to navigate through these twists and turns, or plow through some obstacles, so that we, our trainees, and our patients and communities, come out in better shape on the far end.
I want to share one of the “clinical pearls” I learned in my residency, which has served me well as a “compass,” and which I have quoted (with attribution!) many times to my own trainees as I precept them in the hospital and the office. I offer it now because it is applicable beyond the direct patient care process. I can still hear Tom Campbell saying, “When you’re stuck, expand the system.” He of course meant to explore more into the patient’s family and community context, gathering the perspective of some of those folks that make up that social network or enlisting their assistance in changing parts of that context to achieve change for the patient. He also meant to ask for input and additional, new, and different perspectives and suggestions from one’s professional colleagues, both diagnostically and for interventions. This approach has proved hugely valuable to me, repeatedly. And I think the current emphasis on team-based care is a result of a collective recognition that this systemic approach is valuable and more effective than “going it alone.”
I want to challenge us all to continue to “expand the system” in three ways. I want us to expand our concept of teams, to expand our measurements of what we’re doing, and to expand our reach. Let me elaborate briefly on each of these.