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The Importance of Interprofessional Collaboration in Healthcare

The Modern Nurse
January 26, 2016
The Importance of Interprofessional Collaboration in Healthcare

As the delivery of healthcare evolves to become more interconnected, coordinating care between nurses, pharmacists, physicians, social workers and other disciplines has become increasingly important. In its simplest form, interprofessional collaboration is the practice of approaching patient care from a team-based perspective.

According to the World Health Organization, by implementing interprofessional collaboration and learning to work together and respecting one another's perspectives in healthcare, multiple disciplines can work more effectively as a team to help improve patient outcomes. “Healthcare is dependent on many different disciplines working together to address patient needs,” said Heidi Sanborn, RN, MSN, CCRN, a clinical assistant professor at the Arizona State University College of Nursing and Healthcare Innovation in Phoenix, Ariz.

“There is a significant amount of research to show that patient outcomes, quality of care and cost of care delivery are all optimized when disciplines work together toward a shared goal that focuses on the patient.”

According to Sanborn, historically, interprofessionalism was not a part of the traditional health science education system. Each discipline went to school for their specific specialty – i.e., nursing school, medical school, pharmacy school – and was immersed in a solitary perspective. However, Sanborn notes that when healthcare providers can identify themselves as an integral part of a larger healthcare team, rather than just learning their discipline-specific role, patients can receive the best care – the ultimate goal of each specialty, explained Sanborn.

“When we refocus our work through a lens of interprofessionalism, we can help reduce inefficiencies in patient care,” said Sanborn. “This means that assessments and treatments are done together, and the focus is on the patient as a whole rather than a specific diagnosis or treatment.” 

Additionally, Sanborn noted how important it is for nurses to play a role in the healthcare team in order to offer their unique and vital perspective.

“Nursing has long been the champion profession of viewing the patient as a whole,” said Sanborn. “We as nurses excel at seeing our patients within the context of their environment, whether that means family, community or other social identity. And we incorporate that view into our care plans through nursing diagnoses and the nursing process.”

The national conversation about the need for interprofessional collaboration began when the Institute of Medicine first discussed the merits of team-based care and interprofessional education in 1972. Additionally, on a national level, the passage of the Recovery and Reinvestment Act in 2009 and the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 emphasized the importance of interprofessional practice within the primary care environment. Fast forward to 2015, and most nurses and nursing students now experience interprofessional teamwork in their clinical settings. Sanborn noted that one of the most recognizable examples of modern-day interprofessionalism is “multidisciplinary rounds,” when an interprofessional team meets to discuss and develop patient care together.

“The most patient-centered, successful efforts in healthcare that we have seen so far occur in organizations that model interprofessional teamwork from the bedside right into the boardroom,” said Sanborn. For nurses who would like to implement or increase interprofessionalism in their practice, Sanborn advises to simply start by embracing the nurse identity as part of a patient’s team. When caring for a patient, make an effort to talk to the other disciplines involved in their care. “Share your assessments, and ask about theirs,” said Sanborn.

“This process will help identify common goals and pave the way for collaborative efforts to reach these goals. Many hospital committees now involve multiple disciplines, and nurses can join these committees. The best way to learn more, and champion a change, is to become involved.” For more information about the importance of fostering interprofessional collaboration, read the Campaign for Action’s statement at campaignforaction.org.

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