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Innovations in Primary Care
March 10, 2004

Can Health Care Teams Improve Primary Care Practice?

Author Affiliations

Author Affiliations: Department of Family and Community Medicine, University of California at San Francisco.


Section Editor: Drummond Rennie, MD, Deputy Editor, JAMA.

JAMA. 2004;291(10):1246-1251. doi:10.1001/jama.291.10.1246

In health care settings, individuals from different disciplines come together to care for patients. Although these groups of health care personnel are generally called teams, they need to earn true team status by demonstrating teamwork. Developing health care teams requires attention to 2 central questions: who is on the team and how do team members work together? This article chiefly focuses on the second question. Cohesive health care teams have 5 key characteristics: clear goals with measurable outcomes, clinical and administrative systems, division of labor, training of all team members, and effective communication. Two organizations are described that demonstrate these components: a private primary care practice in Bangor, Me, and Kaiser Permanente's Georgia region primary care sites. Research on patient care teams suggests that teams with greater cohesiveness are associated with better clinical outcome measures and higher patient satisfaction. In addition, medical settings in which physicians and nonphysician professionals work together as teams can demonstrate improved patient outcomes. A number of barriers to team formation exist, chiefly related to the challenges of human relationships and personalities. Taking small steps toward team development may improve the work environment in primary care practices.

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