The World Health Organization has been pushing interprofessional healthcare delivery for more than 50 years, and is not alone. Almost every major professional association has endorsed IP team approaches, including the American Nurses Association, American Speech and Hearing Association, American Occupational Therapy Association, American Physical Therapy Association, American Academy of Physician’s Assistants and American Academy of Family Physicians.

In the past 10-15 years many universities have developed courses or curricula to infuse interprofessional practice into entry-level medical, nursing and allied health education. The young practitioners coming out of these programs are better prepared than ever before to engage in interprofessional teams, given the opportunity.

If you were educated prior to 2010, you may be confused by the relatively new emphasis on interprofessional teamwork in healthcare. Patients pretty much everywhere receive care from an array of different professionals within each setting, so you may think that a bunch of care providers all working alongside one another equals an interprofessional team. Not so.

What is this unicorn of healthcare delivery? Authentic IP teamwork looks like this:

  • There is an IP Plan of Care for each patient that is negotiated and decided by the team.
  • Roles of care providers are fluid and determined by the patient’s current key needs.
  • Team members are both experts in their disciplines and knowledgeable about others’ skills and roles.
  • Everyday work is coordinated and often shared.
  • Communication is regular and frequent.

“…you may think that a bunch of care providers all working alongside one another equals an interprofessional team. Not so.”

If your everyday work experience resembles this model, you are lucky! Despite universal agreement regarding the desirability and effectiveness of IP practice, the majority of clinical practitioners have yet to achieve this ideal.

There’s a growing body of evidence that shows better patient outcomes with IP teamwork. When everyone works in concert and understands their and others’ roles, patients experience care that is more efficient and effective — and professional. Not surprisingly, IP team members experience increased job satisfaction due to a job well done. They feel a sense of belonging and support from their teammates, and less frustration over miscommunication.

How can practitioners begin a path toward truly interprofessional teamwork? There is a large and ever-growing body of literature, including books and journal articles that offer everything from program descriptions to outcome studies. Research is a good way to get started conceptually.

Talking with colleagues from other disciplines and going beyond the usual perfunctory and procedural conversations are essential to developing IP skills. Go to other disciplines’ professional association websites to learn about your colleagues’ professional academic requirements and scopes of practice. Read journal articles from other professions. Pull team members together into IP journal or case discussion groups. You’ll likely be surprised and impressed by the depth and breadth of what others know, and what intersects with your own profession. The more we all understand each team member’s capacities, the better we can function to our fullest as a team.

Practicing professionals can get educated about IP teamwork by engaging in continuing education courses. These can provide factual information about a patient population or intervention approach and a broader sense of what other professionals bring to the table.

Another is to access online journals such as the Journal of Interprofessional Education and Practice; Journal of Interprofessional Care; and Health and Interprofessional Practice.

IP teamwork is a happening trend that will make our work more exciting, effective and satisfying.

Click here for information on interprofessional continuing education courses.