Tables, like the Round Table of King Arthur or the Algonquin Group, promote discussion. But tables can support intense day-to-day collaborative work, too. Each week in chemotherapy rooms in hospitals around the world, patients receive their prescribed cancer drugs. There are 10 comfy chairs in the chemotherapy room where I received treatment earlier this year. They surround a long table used by the nursing team. Dozens of patients are seen over the course of a week in chairs or in small rooms with beds nearby. That’s a lot of pouches of prescribed liquids to unpack and set up on the “IV trees”!
Multi-purpose table supports collaboration
Watching the nurses work together at this big, oval table—the edge can barely be seen at the far right of the photo, next to the empty chair—I saw that it was an important factor in their collaboration. The nurses wash their hands there and consult with one another. Equipment, tools, and disposal receptacles are stored on and under it. While treatment is being administered, the patient’s drugs are on the table. The patient’s file is there for reference where the nurses sign off each drug and then co-sign to cross-check their work. It brings them together constantly.
It is also a helpful focus in the centre of the room; patients are not obliged to stare at one another across an open room as they receive treatment. As part of the visual field at eye level in the chairs, it creates a degree of intimacy for patients with their family members. The nurses are always within view and can be summoned if needed. And with the table there, people cannot walk quickly through the centre of the room. Patients are often greeted because people are going round the table and passing close to their chairs.
Collaboration ensures care quality
The nurses who administer the drugs are part of a larger oncology team that follows the patient to ensure the treatment is meeting their needs. Other team members, at least in my case, include: oncology doctors and surgeons; a case management nurse; nurses who interview patients to record current health and take blood samples; pharmacists; administrative assistants who set up appointments; laboratory workers who analyze the blood samples; and a corps of tireless volunteers who offer patients comfort, kindness, coffee, and chocolates.
During six months of chemotherapy, while watching the team at work, I saw other tables used collaboratively by the hospital oncology team: meeting room tables, operating tables, and work station tables. The table in the chemotherapy room seems to have a direct, positive impact every day on everyone involved, from professional team, to volunteers, to patients. It did this by
- supporting quality care as a space for cross checking and consultation among professionals
- providing lots of space for the equipment and tools needed for operations
- filling space, giving a human feel to the room, and ensuring that patients are seen and acknowledged
Days can be long and difficult in oncology. Each patient is in a different state of well-being. Staff return to the table time and time again to take the next step, to ask questions, to take a quick rest with a sip from their water bottle, and to prepare for the next patient.
The work table in that room makes intense collaboration possible when lots of people are involved in caring for lots of patients. It’s as great for collaboration as the Round Tables of earlier times. Do you know of a table that promotes collaboration in your work?
Photo: Some of the nurses and a volunteer who assisted me during my last chemotherapy session in June 2015. The nurses are standing in front of the long work table. The edge can be seen at the far right next to the empty chair.