With so much discussion about what's not working in healthcare today, experts are increasingly pointing to a model of care that is working to improve outcomes for patients. A growing body of research is showing that the concept of "team work" or interprofessional collaboration can fill service gaps, enhance communication and ease the demands on the healthcare system – all of which translates into better care for patients.
The Coalition for Patients' Rights, a national coalition that represents more than three million licensed and certified healthcare professionals, has tracked the proliferation of multidisciplinary care teams as well as barriers to their creation, such as efforts to limit scope of practice. Often referred to as "turf battles," these efforts can restrict the ability of healthcare professionals to make full use of their training and education as well as discourage the interprofessional cooperation that benefits patients. The multidisciplinary approach to healthcare allows professionals from a variety of disciplines to each contribute expertise to help patients. A growing number of academic institutions are providing the next generation of healthcare professionals with opportunities to work in clinical teams as students.
Recognizing the importance of collaborative practice and teamwork, the Interprofessional Education Collaborative, which represents the disciplines of Dentistry, Medicine, Nursing, Pharmacy and Public Health, identified core competencies for collaborative practice and co-led a conference where an action plan for implementing those competencies was designed.
"In the past, interdisciplinary care teams were largely found in geriatric settings. Now we are seeing this patient-centered approach make its way into other care areas for one reason – it works," said Jan Towers, spokesperson for the Coalition for Patients' Rights. "Especially for patients with chronic health conditions, having multiple professionals collaborating together can mean the difference between an optimal outcome or a sub-par outcome."
Research is demonstrating that a holistic healthcare approach can lead to better clinical outcomes in a number of areas. Examples of new research and publications examining the topic of interprofessional collaboration include:
- Managing the many aspects of diabetes – Diabetes is a chronic disease with a range of symptoms and complications that can vary from patient to patient. In a commentary accepted for publication in the April 2012 issue of Health and Interprofessional Practice, Coalition leaders examined the ways healthcare providers from a variety of disciplines and backgrounds can collaborate to effectively care for diabetes patients, with each member of the team offering their own expertise.
- Leveraging the allied health workforce – The Institute of Medicine (IOM) published a report in December 2011 summarizing stakeholders' discussions of ways to use the allied workforce to improve patient care. They noted that thousands of healthcare workers representing a variety of disciplines make up the allied health workforce. Stakeholders see potential to draw on allied care providers' areas of knowledge and experience as the healthcare system prepares to handle an influx of newly insured patients who gained coverage through healthcare reform.
- Advancing science around sleep – In November 2011, the National Institutes of Health released a research plan outlining new approaches to the prevention and treatment of chronic sleep and wakefulness disorders. An estimated 50 million to 70 million United States adults have these types of disorders and interdisciplinary collaboration is being used to help advance research into treatments. The type of healthcare providers working together to improve these disorders can range from oral health experts to psychiatric nurses to cardiologists.
"When patients are able to engage with healthcare professionals across disciplines, it can help better meet patients' needs," said Towers. "It's important that, as more research reflects the value of multidisciplinary care, barriers to accessing a broad spectrum of providers are removed." The coalition raised concerns about patients' access to care being impacted negatively by policymakers' efforts to pass more than 950 pieces of legislation last year affecting the ability of healthcare professionals to provide care.
Coalition for Patients' Rights