Friday, December 9, 2022
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Team members often forgotten: health unit coordinators

It was a pleasure to attend the 40th Annual National Association of Healthcare Unit Coordinators (NAHUC) Education Conference in mid-August of this year. the Program What “open to all members of the healthcare support team and their supervisors, educators, and administrators.” This broad classification includes health unit coordinators; medical and unit secretaries; unit and ward clerks; business services, health care support, and patient care associates; physician, nursing, and health unit assistants , patient access staff, and unit customer service representatives.

The conference was held in Evanston, Illinois, the peaceful home of Northwestern University and its Big Ten Wildcats on their way to Dublin, Ireland to kick off the NCAA football season against the heavily favored Nebraska Cornhuskers.

When my co-author of this op-ed (Patty Rice) asked me (Paul Rockey) to speak at the conference, I wasn’t sure what a “health unit coordinator” was (let alone that they referred to themselves as ” HUC”). “Health unit” is a problematic label, and I thought it best described a personal health metric, such as pulse, height, cholesterol, or hematocrit. Patty reminded me that HUCs were called “ward clerks” when I was a resident. So, I titled my talk, From “room employees” to “health unit coordinators”: half a century of personal reflections.

Now, we have both had time to reflect on the conference, which was attended by nearly 60 HUCs, most of them at your expense, and have decided to tell their stories to a wider audience.

A health unit coordinator facilitates activities in a health unit and acts as a liaison between all health center departments, including nurses, doctors, other professional staff, ancillary staff, patients, and visitors. A HUC maintains patient and unit records, orders supplies and services, and manages physician orders.

Conference attendees were receptive and engaged. Some were there to fulfill continuing education requirements, others to network with colleagues and friends, but all because of their commitment to quality health care and their dedication to being skilled members of the team.

The verb “coordinate” is not opaque. The meaning most applicable to a health unit coordinator is to lead to common action; to harmonize tasks, schedules and responsibilities. Likewise, the noun “coordinator” can be defined as: one that organizes individuals or groups, activities, and schedules so that everyone works together efficiently.

Paper evolved during World War II. Due to a shortage of nurses and doctors on the home front, “non-clinical” staff took on duties such as putting together charts and answering phones. The title “floor secretary” appeared in a medical journal in Pennsylvania. in the 1940s. Over the years, the title has evolved from “ward clerk,” “ward clerk,” “unit clerk,” and “unit clerk” to the current “health unit coordinator,” which more accurately describes the connection and integration of non-clinical aspects. of patient care.

The coordination of health units is fundamental. HUCs work among a broad spectrum of personnel with significantly diverse levels of education, knowledge, and skills. And each patient has unique needs. The personal hygiene demands required during COVID increased the complexity of care, the risks of error, and the severity of the consequences of errors. Navigating this intricate environment requires consuming social skills. The indispensable work of HUCs should command the respect of highly specialized physicians, clinical team members, and cleaning staff alike, but HUCs go relatively unnoticed unless they get sick and can’t work. It’s time to recognize these team members by their presence and not their absence.

We all benefit from the knowledge and experience of HUCs and should allow them to work to the best of their abilities. Employers should welcome HUC voices in shared governance. Career growth opportunities should include career ladders that address certification, continuing education, and self-governance.

in a 2020 Brookings ReportMolly Kinder, MPA, summed up these points by saying, “Employers must provide respect, appreciation, more equitable wages and support to low-wage health care workers, and opportunities for training, advancement and better job quality.” She said it’s about time employers, colleagues, legislators and the general public treat them with dignity.

Using social network analysis, my (Rockey) talk at the conference described HUCs as “hot spots.” Social networks can be weak or strong, and the connections between individuals (hubs) can be few or many. A competent HUC maintains connections with all relevant clinical and non-clinical staff and juggles priorities. Additionally, HUCs must be adept at communicating in multiple modalities, including intercom, smartphone voice and text messaging, and electronic medical records, as well as face-to-face conversations. Your transactions must be as error-free as humanly possible. If a medication order is misread or incorrectly transcribed, if a patient’s call light or alarm goes unnoticed, if the heart code kit is not maintained, patients suffer or die.

Communication is a crucial component of patient satisfaction and is a benchmark of quality. HUCs are the center of open communication and trust, and foster a sense of teamwork across all disciplines and departments. HUC certification recognizes essential knowledge and skills in unit coordination, communication/customer service, order management, and professional development.

We believe that HUCs should be properly recognized and compensated for the complex and crucial roles they play. Most human resource systems do not recognize the complexity of social networks as an asset. Many HUCs classify themselves as “medical secretaries” as if they were simply taking shorthand and writing letters, like the secretaries in the TV series. Crazy men set in the 1960s.

Interestingly, and in contrast, a “coordinator” is a highly respected member of a football team: a defensive/offensive coordinator is a coach responsible for overseeing a team’s defensive/offensive strategies and players. The average salary of an NFL coordinator is about $1 million. The University of Nebraska Football Team Offensive Coordinator Salary this year it is $875,000. Despite this large amount of money, the Nebraska Cornhuskers were defeated by the Northwestern Wildcats in the season opener in Dublin. Unfortunately, no one was killed by Nebraska’s poor offensive coordination.

Paul H. Rockey, MD, MPH, is professor emeritus of internal medicine and medical humanities at Southern Illinois University School of Medicine. Patricia N. Rice is a Certified Health Unit Coordinator and Executive Director of the National Association of Health Unit Coordinators.

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