What is interprofessional collaboration in healthcare?

interprofessional collaboration in healthcare

Teamwork. From the time we are small children we are encouraged to work (and play) well with others. Whether it’s on a sports field, in a classroom, with friends or in an office; collaborating with those around us generally leads to success.

While the benefits of working closely with our peers are extolled in the workplace, they are often overlooked when it comes to the medical field. With a diverse array of roles and expertise needed for each specific patient, it is easy to understand why the healthcare industry often offers disjointed experiences leaving patients and their families frustrated.

So what can be done? Is there a path forward to make healthcare journey’s easier for all involved? Interprofessional collaboration in healthcare could be the key strategy to reforming the current system.

Collaborative healthcare: the basics

The World Health Organization defines interprofessional collaboration as “multiple health workers from different professional backgrounds working together with patients, families, caregivers, and communities to deliver the highest quality of care.”. 

Collaborative health is more than just the communication of data and how multiple health workers from different professional backgrounds might use said data to create an action or care plan. The goal of team-based care is to focus on how the care of the individual patient can be improved by the collaboration of the entire team.

It is through the collaboration of not only knowledge – but actions – that will make multifunctional teams more effective, efficient and even innovative. Collaborative teams should also exist throughout the healthcare continuum: from preventive and primary care to rehabilitative and palliative care.

Care needs to be cross-functional with a comprehensive view of the patient’s needs; as if each team member holds a piece of a puzzle. Completing the puzzle will lead to improved patient outcomes. One way to ensure each team member has their piece is to embed person-centred care practices in medical education. By placing the focus on the needs of the individual patient and their families, professional partnerships are developed through shared decision making thus minimizing professional differences.

Sharing a common purpose while respecting the roles and expertise of collaborators can not only streamline diagnoses and courses of treatment but ensure that the team member with the most expertise is used at the appropriate time.

Collaborative healthcare: the barriers

If interprofessional collaboration in healthcare makes providers more effective and efficient while improving patient outcomes; why is it not more widely used? Everything from institutional policies and regulations to compensation, to physical environment and personality can prevent interprofessional collaboration. Even a siloed approach in the educational system can prevent healthcare professionals from practicing a team-based approach once they are a licensed healthcare provider. Further compounding the issue are decreasing budgets and funding often eliminating the opportunity for training or technology which could see long-term benefits and reduced operating costs

Collaborative healthcare: the future

As the use of technology to solve problems increases in many aspects of life, technology can also be used to improve collaboration in healthcare. Digital, mobile, HIPAA compliant technology can replace analog, stationary technology such as the fax machine. With technology, collaboration is increased by:

  • Centralizing information and data to one platform available to all
  • Using the same information from the same location reduces errors and omissions
  • Allowing for virtual collaboration regardless of location (or time zone)
  • Workflow automation reduces repetitive manual tasks and frees up time for patient care, especially during a historic staff shortage

As more digital natives continue to enter the workforce every year, and as more processes and systems are digitized, empowering teams with digital collaboration platforms can accelerate not only productivity but improve patient outcomes.

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