The Importance of Interprofessional Collaboration in Healthcare
The Importance of Interprofessional Collaboration in Healthcare
Interprofessional collaboration was long considered a best practice in healthcare before COVID-19, but it became essential during the pandemic. While hospitals across the country were short-staffed, it took the integrated collaboration of all members of the healthcare system to keep patients and providers safe.
Now, health systems nationwide are working to establish new frameworks that ensure the benefits of interprofessional collaboration continue, even as pandemic conditions ebb and flow.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), interprofessional collaboration occurs when “multiple health workers from different professional backgrounds work together with patients, families, caregivers and communities to deliver the highest quality of care across settings.”
As healthcare delivery becomes more interconnected, coordination between nurses, physicians, pharmacists, social workers, and other disciplines is vital to improving workplaces, health systems and patient care.
Interprofessional Collaboration Improves the Workplace
Interprofessional collaboration trains different disciplines to learn how to work together and to recognize the value of different skillsets, efforts that enhance the workplace. One study found a collaborative work environment to improve conflict management, confidence, and innovation, while lowering emotional exhaustion. This benefits healthcare workers by reducing workload and increasing job satisfaction.
Interprofessional collaboration promotes better communication between healthcare workers and therefore quickens decision-making in high-stress clinical environments. Such collaboration fosters respect for the contributions of all disciplines
To that point, true collaboration is one of the AACN six standards for establishing a healthy work environment. Working together to better support patient care can foster a team-based mentality, improving employee satisfaction and leading to a happier work environment where nurses – and all healthcare workers – can thrive.
Nurses as Leaders in Team-Based Care
Nurses are natural leaders and offer a unique and vital perspective in providing patient care.
“Nursing has long been the champion profession of viewing the patient as a whole,” said Heidi Sanborn, RN, MSN, CCRN, a clinical assistant professor at the Arizona State University College of Nursing and Healthcare Innovation in Phoenix, Arizona. “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.”
Nurses provide a broad and deep knowledge of patient needs. Interacting with every member of the healthcare system, nurses collaborate with physicians, technologists, administrators, researchers and more to improve patient outcomes. According to Moss, Seifert, and Sullivan in the Online Journal of Issues in Nursing, “RNs are excellent coordinators…. This ability to communicate with individuals from various backgrounds, with different goals and responsibilities, is especially valuable within the complex healthcare environment.”
Nurses not only improve patient care — they also facilitate processes in healthcare. Nurses contribute to the development, implementation, and improvement of telenursing and electronic health records (EHRs). They work with information technologists, vendors, and nurse informaticists to help develop accurate EHRs. The collaboration of nurses with multiple disciplines improves efficiency for all parties.
Sanborn noted that one of the most recognizable examples of modern-day interprofessionalism is “multidisciplinary rounds,” when a team of nurses, doctors, pharmacists, physical therapists, and social workers meet 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.
Interprofessional Collaboration Benefits Patients
“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,” said Sanborn.
Interprofessional collaboration can improve patient outcomes by reducing adverse drug reactions, preventing emergency hospitalizations, decreasing morbidity and mortality rates, and optimizing medication dosages. When members of a healthcare team work together, patient outcomes improve by decreasing medical errors and preventable complications.
“When we refocus our work through a lens of interprofessionalism, we can help reduce inefficiencies in patient care,” explained 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.”
The History of Interprofessional Collaboration
Interprofessional collaboration was not always a part of medical education curricula. The national conversation on interprofessional collaboration began when the Institute of Medicine first discussed the merits of team-based care and interprofessional education in 1972.
The passage of the Recovery and Reinvestment Act in 2009 and the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 further emphasized the importance of interprofessional practice within the primary care environment. By 2015, most nurses and nursing students experienced interprofessional teamwork in their clinical settings.
Interprofessional Collaboration in Practice
Healthcare interprofessional collaboration is an ethos around which many universities are developing formal programming. Take University of North Carolina’s School of Nursing — a leader in interprofessional education (IPE), the process where students from multiple health professions learn from one another to improve health outcomes. Their School of Nursing offers the Education-Innovation-Simulation-Learning-Environment (EISLE), a simulation lab that provides clinical training for nursing students to acquire, practice, and gain confidence in vital patient care skills and IPE opportunities.
Other programs, like the Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing at UC Davis, implement IPE in their clinical practice to help tackle the problems of health care and develop leaders who can solve these challenges. Concordia University, located in Wisconsin, offers the School of Nursing Interprofessional Education program, which provides nursing students with real-life experience working with other health and human services students.
Virginia Commonwealth University’s Center for Interprofessional Education and Collaborative Care embraces the idea that collaboration happens outside of the classroom. The university’s Annual Emswiller Symposium is a forum for health professional students, educators, practitioners, researchers, and policymakers to improve health through innovation in interprofessional practice, and these are just a few examples among many institutions investing in the value of interprofessional learning.
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.
For more information about the importance of fostering interprofessional collaboration, read the Campaign for Action’s statement at campaignforaction.org.