Modern healthcare is a team sport, especially in hospitals. The typical inpatient experience features a cadre of health professionals working together to deliver quality care and a stellar patient experience. Except, how much are they actually working together? Unless they have regular meetings or secure digital communications tools, the answer is likely not much.
That’s a problem, because as medicine becomes increasingly specialized, care teams become more crowded, and interprofessional collaboration in healthcare is more important than ever.
So, what exactly is interprofessional collaboration in healthcare? Why should it be a priority for your organization? And what hospital communication technology do you need to keep your team connected — across health professions, shifts, and even locations?
The World Health Organization defines it as “multiple health workers from different professional backgrounds work[ing] together with patients, families, carers (caregivers), and communities to deliver the highest quality of care.”
You could argue that’s what hospital teams have always done. But interprofessional collaboration is about more than data sharing and efficient communication between nurses and physicians. It requires all care team members to engage with the patient and with each other, and it requires leaders to put their egos aside for the good of the patient.
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation addresses the inherent power struggles and necessary culture changes in its definition of interprofessional collaboration in healthcare: “Effective interprofessional collaboration promotes the active participation of each discipline in patient care, where all disciplines are working together and fully engaging patients and those who support them, and leadership on the team adapts based on patient needs … It fosters respect for the disciplinary contributions of all professionals.”
Interprofessional collaboration in healthcare isn’t a new concept. In 1972, the Institute of Medicine called for team-based patient care as a way to improve patient outcomes and safety. The idea took a while to catch on, but it’s been a trending topic since 2009, when the nation’s leading healthcare education associations partnered to form the Interprofessional Education Collaborative (IPEC).
Since then, the World Health Organization and other global healthcare organizations have repeatedly stressed the need for interprofessional education as a way to not only improve quality of care for individual patients, but also for global health populations.
Why is interprofessional collaboration essential? Because when you create a collaborative culture (and put communication strategies and technology in place to support that culture), you:
A patient walks into the emergency department (ED) complaining of chest pains. An ED doctor checks him out, followed by a cardiologist, who orders some tests and waits on the results from the radiologist, who confirms what both doctors suspected: the patient is having a heart attack.
After having emergency surgery, the patient spends a day in the ICU, where a team of nurses care for him in 12-hour shifts, before transferring him to a cardiac unit, where he meets his new team of rotating nurses. Each morning throughout his stay, a hospitalist (or perhaps his primary care doctor) stops by during rounds. So does the cardiologist, and since the patient has diabetes and COPD, an endocrinologist and pulmonologist. Depending on the patient’s recovery and lifestyle, physical therapists, dieticians, and social workers might even get involved.
Each of these people has a unique perspective and valuable insights about the patient. They notice different symptoms and consider different possibilities. Together, they have a more comprehensive, holistic view of the patient. But these people are rarely, if ever, in the same room. At best, they share data via EHR, but they often lack a way to communicate directly in real-time.
Along with care team meetings, many hospitals now encourage team-based, patient-centered rounds that include the primary doctor, bedside nurse, specialized physicians, and any other relevant team members. This helps to foster both patient-centered care and interprofessional collaboration in healthcare.
It also helps to have hospital communication technology that lets care teams communicate and collaborate seamlessly and securely on the go or at the point of care — via text, voice, or video.
In healthcare, communication gaps can have costly consequences — from missed symptoms to misdiagnoses to medication errors. In fact, medical errors cause 250,000 deaths each year. According to Johns Hopkins, it’s the third leading cause of death in the U.S.
It’s easy to see how accidents can happen, with multiple doctors prescribing multiple medications, and numerous nurses delivering those medications. EHR notes can help, but clinical communication is vital. That means having a group conversation, looping in a pharmacist for some interprofessional collaboration, and ensuring nurses have all the information they need to treat patients safely.
Studies have shown that interprofessional collaboration in healthcare can help to reduce preventable adverse drug reactions, decrease mortality rates, and optimize medication dosages.
Much of healthcare is a waiting game. Patients wait for physicians, while physicians wait for other physicians to provide consultations, or for radiology to send back lab results.
Communication delays frustrate patients and waste valuable time, giving conditions time to worsen. That’s why the Joint Commission continually lists “improve staff communication” and “get important test results to the right staff person on time” as a National Patient Safety Goal.
Again, interprofessional collaboration bridges the gaps. So does clinical communication technology. It keeps care team members connected (so they can reach out to that physician who hasn’t entered notes into the EHR) and automates alerts (so they receive text messages when critical lab results come in). Overall a care team collaboration platform delivers the right information to the right people at the right time via secure messaging, voice, or video.
Interprofessional collaboration in healthcare helps to prevent medication errors, improve the patient experience (and thus HCAHPS), and deliver better patient outcomes — all of which can reduce healthcare costs. It also helps hospitals save money by shoring up workflow redundancies and operational inefficiencies.
By improving the interprofessional collaboration model between its nurses and physicians, one hospital cut its fall rate in half, decreased average length-of-stay by 0.6 days, increased annualized bed turn by 20 percent, and increased discharges before noon by 20 percent — according to a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation study of 20 hospitals. At another hospital in the study, interprofessional collaboration significantly improved surgical start times and prevented delays that led to 700 wasted hours over the previous four years.
Every health profession has its own subculture, knowledge base, and philosophy. When you add power structures, some members’ voices get prioritized over others. That’s not good for the patient or for staff morale.
Interprofessional collaboration levels the playing field and acknowledges that everyone plays a vital role on the care team. That sense of community and camaraderie can also boost staff retention and recruitment.
Workers in most industries are more connected than ever. Whether they need a face-to-face conversation with a colleague across the country via video conferencing, or want to text an update to a customer, all they need is a smartphone.
Many healthcare professionals have this experience everywhere except work. Because their employers haven’t invested in a HIPAA-compliant communication platform, they’re still relying on outdated technology like pagers, landlines, or fax machines.
When hospital communications technology is hard to use, your staff will use it as infrequently as possible or waste valuable time trying to get in touch with a member of the care team. If you want your team to master interprofessional collaboration in healthcare, give them the tools to do it.