Can Better Teamwork in the ICU Save Lives?

By: Staff Report

Adapted from a piece originally published by Carnegie Mellon University.

Effective teamwork is the goal of any workplace. But few settings offer higher stakes than the fast-paced, life-or-death environment of a hospital intensive care unit (ICU).

Team collaboration in ICUs is an area ripe for exploration, according to a review by Jennifer N. Ervin, Ph.D., and Jeremy M. Kahn, M.D., of the University of Pittsburgh Department of Critical Care Medicine, and Taya R. Cohen, Ph.D., and Laurie R. Weingart, Ph.D., both of Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business. The review, titled “The Science of Teamwork,” was recently published in a special issue of the American Psychologist.


Dr. Jeremy Kahn

“Over 4 million Americans are admitted to an ICU each year. Interprofessional collaboration is a cornerstone of modern critical care, yet we know shockingly little about how ICU teams function or how to make them function better,” said Kahn, professor of critical care medicine and health policy and management at Pitt. “Through this work, we hope to leverage the power of the ICU team to improve the quality of critical care and save lives in the ICU.”

Part of what makes the ICU such a challenging setting to study is the unorthodox structure of its teams, said Cohen, associate professor of organizational behavior and theory at CMU.


Dr. Jennifer Ervin

“Most research deals with clearly defined teams, but that’s not the case in the ICU,” she said. “It’s not completely clear which clinicians should be considered members of the team. Nurses, for example, may work with different sets of people than do the dietician or the respiratory therapist.”

Funded by a grant from the National Institutes of Health, the researchers are collecting survey data on teamwork in ICUs across Pennsylvania. During their next phase, they’ll examine how teamwork processes and experiences affect ICU performance and patient outcomes.

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