Most health care providers were educated in silos with only those from their own profession. Few were trained to work as part of integrated teams. But when providing patient care, health care professionals must interact with providers from other professions to share information, execute quality and safety checks and help patients understand and comply with treatment plans.
Research has long suggested that collaboration across health care professions improves coordination, communication and, ultimately, the quality and safety of patient care. It utilizes both the individual and collective skills and experience of team members, allowing them to function more effectively and deliver a higher level of services than each would working alone.
The Lack of Collaboration in Health Care
Our health care system is fraught with errors. Both the human and financial costs are enormous. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has reported that, at any given time, about one in every 20 patients has an infection related to their hospital care. Research has also shown that on average, one in seven Medicare beneficiaries is harmed in the course of their care.
In part, this is because providers have not sufficiently functioned in teams. Doctors and specialists do not confer, tests are repeated and test results are not shared, and care is not coordinated in ways that protect patients during transitions between different settings of care, such as hospital to nursing home or home. There is increasing evidence that coordinating care by assigning teams of providers can help reduce medical errors and improve quality, as well as help providers provide patient-centered, higher quality care to an increasingly diverse patient population.
Interprofessional Education for Health Professions
Effective collaboration begins early, as providers are being educated. The Institute of Medicine in 2010 recommended that nurses should be educated with doctors and other health professionals both as students and later. The Interprofessional Education Collaborative has recommended that all future health professionals should be taught to:
- Assert values and ethics of interprofessional practice by placing patient interests at the center of health care delivery, and embracing the cultural diversity and differences within health care teams;
- Leverage the unique roles and responsibilities of interprofessional partners to appropriately assess and address the health care needs of patients and populations served;
- Communicate with patients, families, communities and other health professionals; and
- Perform effectively in various team roles to deliver patient- or population-centered care that is safe, timely, efficient, effective and equitable.
Expanding Interprofessional Collaboration in Patient Care
To target health care professionals after they have completed their training, hospitals, primary care providers and other health care organizations should reeducate providers. To address this, the U.S. Department of Defense and Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality created Team Strategies and Tools to Enhance Performance and Patient Safety, an evidence-based tool which aims to improve communication and teamwork skills.
Additionally, the Affordable Care Act has advanced the concept of interprofessional collaboration, promotes a variety of models that depend on integrated teams of providers to deliver superior care, such as Accountable Care Organizations, Medicare Independence at Home demonstration projects and Medicaid Health Homes.
Collaboration between doctors, nurses and other health care providers has not always been the norm in health care. Interprofessional collaboration holds promise for reducing medical errors, improving the quality of care and meeting the needs of diverse populations. We can increase interprofessional collaboration by educating doctors, nurses and other health professionals together, and by retraining providers to work together.