Debora A. Davidson, PhD, OTR/L, Clinical Occupational Therapy Editor

Debora A. Davidson, PhD, OTR/L, Clinical Occupational Therapy Editor

Are you aware of all of the attention that interprofessional teamwork in healthcare is getting these days? It started in the 1970s and 80s in Canada and Great Britain, and today it’s a full-blown worldwide phenomenon.

In 2010, the World Health Organization published the “Framework for Action on Interprofessional Education and Collaborative Practice,” which describes the “culture shift in healthcare delivery” that is occurring and ways to promote it in healthcare settings and practitioner education. A literature search of databases of medical and allied health journals reflects an explosion of publication about interprofessional teamwork: what it is, how to establish and grow it, and its many positive outcomes. Foundations have established competitive grants to fund scholars and service providers who want to promote clinical programs that demonstrate and live up to high standards of interprofessionalism. University programs have formed curricula to reflect interprofessional values and skills. A shift to interprofessionalism is definitely happening, and Today in OT is helping to move it forward.

As practitioners who almost always function as members of a mixed team of professionals, one may rightly wonder what all of the fuss is about. Is interprofessionalism really something new, or just old news that has been rediscovered and repackaged? Having given the issue quite a bit of study and thought over the past several years, I can say that the today’s interprofessional team model is a souped-up, more defined and demanding approach to teamwork than was seen in the past. It moves us away from the multi-disciplinary approaches that most settings have used and toward a more truly integrated, informed, and efficient approach.

In today’s paradigm, a team is functioning interprofessionally when expert professionals of two or more disciplines :

  • Understand and respect one another’s professionals’ expertise and roles
  • Communicate regularly and frequently through formal (i.e., regularly scheduled team meetings, electronic and written records) and informal (i.e., conversations in the nurses’ station, telephone calls, and as-needed meetings)
  • Work together to develop an interprofessional plan of care that focuses on outcome goals for the patient
  • Shift roles and approaches as the patient’s needs and situation change

This kind of teamwork has been objectively shown to produce numerous improved positive outcomes: reduced lengths of stay in hospitals, increased patient satisfaction, reduced medical errors, and increased healthcare worker satisfaction, among them.

Professional education programs are building in coursework designed to educate entry-level practitioners to function as interprofessional team members. This has been presented at the National AOTA Conference, and is formalized in the accrediting requirements for educational programs for a growing number of health professions.

According to the WHO (2010):

Interprofessional education occurs when two or more professions learn about, from and with each other to enable effective collaboration and improve health.

Don’t we all wish that our basic education had included classes on interprofessional practice, as it is defined today? I recall leaving my bachelor’s program (yes, I am that vintage) all excited about OT and what we do, but not so aware of the other players’ roles and expertise. I was focused on promoting other’s awareness of and appreciation for OT, a profession that was often poorly understood. I had to learn that through experience that, in my professional narcissism, I was sometimes inadvertently offensive to my teammates and less effective as a therapist. Sometimes after doing a lot of work on a client’s behalf, I learned that another professional team member had already taken care of that area of need or that none of us had covered a need that we all knew was important. Ugh. I wish that my professional development as a team member had been more formalized and focused.

Here is where Today in OT and our cadre of fellow health professions writers and editors come in. You may be surprised to learn that Gannett Healthcare Group (parent to Today in OT) actually encompasses a group of 19 clinical editors, whose expertise includes PT, SLP, dietetics, respiratory therapy, nursing, massage therapy, pharmacy, psychology, social work and a host of other professions. Just go to our web page at  to see us all listed.

We are dedicated to bring you the most innovative, relevant and interesting interprofessionally authored and peer reviewed continuing education available. Each month we add well-written CE modules to our libraries, with an emphasis on interprofessional continuing education. We fully support the trend to facilitate better care through better teamwork, and I invite you to join us in that effort!

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