Best Practices

Huddling for High-Performing Teams

In short team huddles, trainees and PACT teamlets meet to coordinate care and identify ways to improve team processes under the guidance of faculty members who reinforce collaborative practice and continuous improvement.

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In 2011, 5 US Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) medical centers were selected by the VA Office of Academic Affiliations (OAA) to establish Centers of Excellence in Primary Care Education (CoEPCE). Part of the VA New Models of Care initiative, the 5 CoEPCEs (Boise, Cleveland, San Francisco, Seattle and West Haven) are utilizing VA primary care settings to develop and test innovative approaches to prepare physician residents, nurse practitioner (NP) students and residents (postgraduate), and other health professions trainees, such as pharmacy, social work, psychology, physician assistants (PAs), dieticians, etc for primary care practice.

The CoEPCEs are interprofessional academic patient aligned care teams (PACTs) defined by VA as a PACT that has at least 2 professions of trainees on the team engaged in learning.

This model is VA’s preferred method for teaching and learning in primary care. The CoEPCEs are developing, implementing and evaluating curricula within 4 core domains designed to prepare learners to practice in primary care settings that are patient-centered, interprofessional, and team-based (Table).

The San Francisco VA Health Care System (SFVAHCS) Education in PACT (EdPACT)/CoEPCE developed and implemented a workplace learning model that embeds trainees into PACT teamlets and clinic workflow.1 Trainees are organized in practice partner triads with 2 second- or third-year internal medicine residents (R2s and R3s) and 1 NP student or resident. Physician residents rotate every 2 months between inpatient and outpatient settings and NP trainees are present continuously for 12 months. In this model, each trainee in the triad has his/her own patient panel and serves as a partner who delivers care to his/her partners’ patients when they are unavailable. Didactic sessions on clinical content and on topics related to the core domains occur 3-times weekly during pre- and postclinic conferences.2


In 2015, evaluators from the OAA reviewed background documents and conducted open-ended interviews with 9 CoEPCE staff, participating trainees, VA faculty, VA facility leadership, and affiliate faculty. Informants described their involvement, challenges encountered, and benefits of the huddle to participants, veterans, and the VA.

The Huddle

With the emphasis on patient-centered medical homes and team-based care in the Affordable Care Act, there is an urgent need to develop new training models that provide future health professionals with skills that support interprofessional communication and collaborative practice.2,3 A key aim of the CoEPCE is to expand workplace learning strategies and clinical opportunities for interprofessional trainees to work together as a team to anticipate and address the health care needs of veterans. Research suggests that patient care improves when team members develop a shared understanding of each other’s skill sets, care procedures, and values.4 In 2010, the SFVAHCS began phasing in VA-mandated PACTs. Each patient-aligned care teamlet serves about 1,200 patients and is composed of physician or NP primary care provider(s) (PCPs) and a registered nurse (RN) care manager, a licensed vocational nurse (LVN), and a medical support assistant (MSA). About every 3 teamlets also work with a profession-specific team member from the Social Work and Pharmacy departments. The implementation of PACT created an opportunity for the CoEPCE to add trainees of various professions to 13 preexisting PACTs in 3 SFVAHCS primary care clinics. This arrangement benefits both trainees and teamlets: trainees learn how to collaborate with clinic staff while the clinic PACT teamlets benefit from coaching by faculty skilled in team-based care.


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