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Virtual Teams in HealthCare

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Introduction

Areas of the health care delivery services of the health care organizations have become more widespread. Relationships between the stakeholders that are involved into the health care process both inside and outside the hospital (doctors, patients, suppliers, community member, managers of complementary services, etc.) are playing an important role in the effective performance of the health care institution.

Collaboration among the members of the health care management team, therefore, has become a watchword for successful provision of the integrated health care services. Knowledge management provides opportunities to make experiences and skills of the team members from all parts of the health care organization available for everyone involved into the health care process. Consequently, the key people necessary for effective management team performance may be not necessarily located in the same place, but be either across town, region or, moreover, even across the country (Preece 2000).

This kind of management teams are considered to be virtual teams due to the fact that substantial amount of their communication is exercised outside of the traditional in person meetings. Virtual teams perform their communication in the majority of cases with the help of technologies, including e-mails and video teleconferences.

Even though the new technology that provides support for the virtual teams is attracting a lot of attention recently, effective management of the virtual team requires more than just access to this technology. Therefore, in order to ensure efficiency of the work instead of disturbance, the new team management should employ new approaches in its management process (Kimball 1999).

Virtual teams are becoming more common and successful in the health care setting. The new distributed teams, unlike traditional ones, offer the health care organization a set of advantages (Eysenbach et. al 2004). Virtual teams (i) are able to develop and extend improved practices at a higher speed across other health care organizations; (ii) can join different experiences into the self-organized as well as experience sharing health care professional communities’ networks; (iii) are able to facilitate cross-divisional as well as cross-functional partnership and (iv) finally it can increase abilities of employees to show initiative and make a contribution to various projects in the health care organizational framework (Kimball 1999).

Structure of the health care organization as well as a structure of the virtual team, cultural background of the organization, and type of management are among the few factors affecting performance of the virtual team management. Defining factors as well as direction of their impact on the successful management of health care organizations is a central research question. At the same time, additional extended analysis of the geographical dispersion of the virtual team and level of trust among the team members is essential to shed the light on the reasons of successful virtual team performance (Schulz 2001).

Therefore, successful performance management of virtual teams in health care organizations is critical for improvement not only of the health care institution’s management, but also delivery of the better quality of services and advanced patients’ care. Hence, the purpose of this paper is to gain a better understanding of how health care organizations manage successfully the performance of their employees whose work environment consists of virtual teams.

Relation to Previous Research

A virtual team can be defined as a public unit involving members that are related with each other as a group of individuals and that cooperate with each other using advanced communication technologies that link them on distance. A virtual team in the health care setting is a group of people that is based on the means of telecommunication with the intention of conducting joint activities that are related to the health care and/ or education (Wyatt 2001). Activities can incorporate patient or health care staff education, actual delivery of health care and treatment services, health care support, discussions of treatment related problems, information sharing, and finally conduct of consultation with experts in certain field. The stakeholders that are involved into these relationships can be health care providers, health care researchers, caregivers as well as patients and even members of general public (Demiris 2006).

Due to existent travel restrictions of employees, development of virtual teams has been increasing exponentially along with the increase of the number of telecommuters, or employees that work distantly from remote locations and conduct communication electronically (Cooper 1997). For example, two out of three Fortune companies have telecommuters among their staff (Cascio 2000). Moreover, the Labor department of the United States has reported that in 2001, 19 million people had worked online from home or from another location.

In the health care setting, virtual teams sustain their effective work with the help of various technological means including online message boards, asynchronous communication with the help of automatic mailing list servers, videoconferencing, various internet chat rooms either group or private types, etc. (Burnett, Besant, and Chatman 2001).

In order to shed a light on the factors affecting effective performance of the health care virtual team, a clear identification of the “team” concept is required. Following the dimensions of the “team” definition by Lorimer and Manion (Lorimer and Manion 1996) in this research a team is considered as a relatively small number of people that are dedicated to the commonly shared important goals, who have “complementary and overlapping skills, and a common approach to their work’’ (Lorimer and Manion 1996). According to this notion, physical presence of every team member in the same location and at the same time is not required for efficient work. Therefore, health care providers in different health care spheres like nurses, physicians, physical therapists, social workers and others can establish a team to provide a wide-ranging plan of medical care.

In the course of the work of the virtual team in the health care organization, a set of factors may affect its effectiveness. Those may include administrative and institutional factors, technological, psychological, cultural and geographical barriers that can either smooth or, vice verse, prohibit development of virtual team performance (Demiris 2006).

Management of the virtual teams is supposed to be creative and not standard in finding approaches for to help people set up commonalities. Compared to the traditional face-to-face team management, in the virtual setting this process takes additional time and efforts. At first, the manager of the virtual team has to find out more information about every team member and then share it with others (Cooper 1997).

Trust and respect are crucial factors for effective performance of every type of team, including virtual teams. Earning trust among the team members requires creation of the environment in which every team member feels appreciated for the delivered work and valued. At the same time, the role of manager is crucial for achieving maximal return who have to make sure that every member received an opportunity to express his opinion (Garton and Wegryn 2006).

Finally, successful performance o the virtual team depends crucially on the effective communication among the manager and team members. Employing various means of communication, manager should determine environment that is comfortable for every team member (Garton and Wegryn 2006).

Due to the fact that the notion of virtual health care teams is new, no specific regulations or guidelines have been developed to address their ethical and administrative considerations. However, the American Medical Informatics Association (AMIA) has offered guidelines to regulate the process of electronic communication between patients and health care providers (Kane ad Sans 1998). In order to carry out virtual visits of doctors using the means of videoconferencing technologies in the setting of home care, the American Telemedicine Association (American Telemedicine Association 2003) has developed a set of clinical guidelines to use this kind of applications.

Virtual teams as a form of management is applied in various industries. Currently, it has been extensively and effectively applied in the health care setting. Electronic Intensive Care Units are used in a large number of hospitals to provide cost-effective distant health care to patients (Salmon 2004). Other than effective distant patient care, virtual team is a useful project management tool for health care organizations. In any case, successful results depend on the effective team management and its performance. Therefore, defining factors that affect accomplishments of the virtual team in the health care organization is crucial for the development of policy measures and improvement of the health care organization’s work.

Proposed methods

Study of the factors that affect performance of the virtual team in the health care organization can be conducted using a field study, i.e. a survey of virtual teams that conduct their activities in the heath care industry. An online survey of the virtual teams is an accessible source of information that can provide information about representative sample of teams operating in the industry, as well as key characteristics of their structure and organization of work.

A lot of previous research has been implemented in the form of case studies. A case study allows revealing qualitative information about the peculiarities of virtual team management that can not be captured using quantitative analysis tools. At the same time a case study can be exercised in the form of the structured interviews via telephone call with team members or manager, via e-mail in the form of online survey or other alternative way.

However, combination of the two methods would enable uncovering both quantitative as well as qualitative information about the management of the virtual teams in the health care industry.

Reflections

Implementation of the virtual teams in the work of the health care organizations has several implications for all the stakeholders that are involved in the health care process.

First, introduction of the virtual teams to the work on health care projects enables health care organizations combine professionals in different spheres in a single team at the cost effective rate. New enhanced communication technologies provide an opportunity for companies reduce their fixed transportation and dwelling costs by offering various means of effective communication tools like teleconferences, videoconferences, fast electronic e-mail system and different kinds of chat rooms, both group and private.

Second, introduction of the virtual teams in the regular work of the health care organizations can be made on the patient care level. A lot of hospitals currently are introducing virtual intensive care units and other means of home care that also reduces costs of the hospital beds as well as exercises positive effects on patients that obtain opportunity receive high quality health care in the familiar environment.

At the same time, it order to achieve successful performance of the virtual health care team, health care organization’s management have to be thoroughly implemented.

Using both quantitative and qualitative information obtained from online survey as well as case studies, this study will shed a light on the factors that affect successful performance of the virtual team in the health care setting, how geographical disparity as well as cultural and psychological environment affects it.

Conclusion

Enhanced technologies and tools of communication are developing and improving in the field of health care. Advanced technologies can transform the sphere of health care by enabling people to communicate and work on distance, forming virtual teams. This brings a substantial shift in the industry from institution based to the patient or consumer based health care system. However, policy, legal, administrative as well as ethical issues that are associated with virtual health care teams still have to be addressed. In addition, all-embracing research is needed that will verify the impact of virtual teams in the health care sphere on the general process, its quality and access to health care as well as on the clinical outcomes.

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