This story appeared in the spring 2014 issue of Chapman Magazine.
Health practitioners embrace a team approach, adding a new dose of dynamism to a system that needs mending. The story below highlights how Dr. Matthew Barcellona ’99 is at the hub of team care. Read more about how Chapman University students are on the cutting edge of training for that new healthcare paradigm.
A challenging case with miles of complications puts Dr. Matthew Barcellona ’99 at the hub of team care.
Matt Barcellona ’99 learned a thing or two about teamwork at Chapman University, where as an Academic All-America baseball player he led the Panthers to three NCAA playoff appearances and a West Region title.
Along the way, there were lots of comebacks, and even some last-inning heroics. But he never had to rally his teammates to help save the life of a child. That challenge only presented once he became a pediatrician and assumed the central role on a healthcare team.
As a primary-care physician at North Scottsdale Pediatrics in Arizona, he has coordinated the care on a number of complicated cases. One stands out.
Jessica (not her real name) was 2 when she was diagnosed with a complex heart condition that would require multiple surgeries. As if that weren’t challenge enough, Jessica’s parents are Jehovah’s Witnesses, which precludes transfusions. Thus, the multiple surgeries would all have to be bloodless.
After the family found a surgeon in Cincinnati who agreed to do the surgeries according to their wishes, the real work began for Barcellona. He had to manage a team that included not just the surgeon 1,800 miles away but also a cardiologist; an immunologist (because Jessica has a complex immune-system
disorder); a gastro-intestinal specialist (because her organs are backwards in her body); a general surgeon; speech, feeding and occupational therapists; and a home healthcare nurse.
“At any given time, I’ve talked to each of them,” says Barcellona, M.D. “So communication becomes critical. Notes, phone calls, communicating through the parents – they’re all important.”
If the surgeon in Cincinnati needs test results from Phoenix, Barcellona makes sure that transfer is speedy. And with so much potential for complications, he serves as risk-minimizer-in-chief.
“When you’re a hammer, the whole world looks like a nail, and specialists are a whole bunch of hammers with a whole bunch of nails,” he says.
Another of his central roles is ensuring that all healthcare team members pursue the same goals, while never forgetting that the first priority is the patient.
“I’ve been able to form a bond with the family, so they know that if they hit a wall in their care or coverage, I’ll be there to help them get past it,” Barcellona said. “That’s big, because the medical system can be complex to navigate, and it’s only getting more so.”
Barcellona, a Cheverton honoree at Chapman as the top graduating senior in his class, now has lots of experience with the team approach to health care. It starts in his own household; his wife, Dawn, is a pediatric emergency physician, and they often compare notes. Meanwhile, at his practice, he and the 12 other doctors and two physician assistants meet at least once a month to talk about conferences they’ve attended or the particulars of instructive cases.
Barcellona can offer this update on Jessica.
“She’s doing great — she’s spunky, amazing,” he says. “She’s 4 years old, going to preschool, living her normal life, other than her many doctor visits.”
It’s not always easy to know his level of impact as the person at the hub of her care, he adds.
“Truth be told, she’d be doing well even if I wasn’t in the picture. But hopefully I’ve made their experience easier and more rewarding, and maybe improved outcomes. Nothing I’ve done has saved her life, but I’ve helped coordinate her care so things have gone as smoothly as possible.”
And the joy of knowing that much puts the case in a treasured corner of his own team healthcare hall of fame.