In the past, primary care physicians independently cared for patients and attended to all their healthcare needs. However, the increase in complexity of patients and the healthcare system now requires an interdisciplinary approach to improve patient outcomes. Accordingly, teamwork has become increasingly important to providing safe and effective care to patients. For these reasons, several international health organizations promoted interprofessional education (IPE) to redesign health professions education (HPE) to promote interprofessional teamwork with the goal of improving the quality of patient care and health outcomes.1 To date, however, IPE has mainly focused on preparing trainees with the individual competencies to work in an interprofessional healthcare environment.2 While working on individual competencies is clearly necessary, this is not sufficient. In my view, current IPE suffers from a lack of a universal framework to teach patient-centered collaborative practice to trainees. My aim is to propose a framework to help clinician educators teach interprofessional collaboration.
Let’s Start with the Basics
I believe effective communication skills should be the foundation of the framework. A qualitative study by Sutter et al found that health professionals believe that effective communication is important in collaborative practice.2 Trainees must learn the basics of communicating well to help members of the team not only understand their roles but also recognize the value of other professionals in patient care. As clinician educators, we must help the trainees to practice the components of effective communication skills, which include but are not limited to listening, clarifying, assessing non-verbal cues, and judicious use of silence. Once trainees have mastered effective communication skills, they can build upon this foundation.
Building On the Foundation
In addition to mastering fundamental communication skills, health professional trainees must learn several other teamwork specific skills to be an effective member of an interdisciplinary team. Dow et al proposed that health professional trainees must acquire a fundamental understanding of team process, leadership, and collaboration in health care.3 For a team to perform successfully, each member must understand what is required of the team and the desired goal of providing safe and good care to patients. With team process, “team members as a group should engage in reflection and feedback activities that review past team performance, assess progress toward overall goals, develop interval goals and create an implementation plan”3 to reach the team’s goals. Constant reassessment of the team’s performance helps the members to keep improving and moving seamlessly towards achieving their goals.
Good leadership skills are also crucial to the success of an interprofessional team. A good leader will need to delegate responsibilities to other team members while encouraging each member to acknowledge and respect the expertise of all the members. At the same time, effective leadership creates familiarity and makes members feel safe to participate. Once team members understand their roles and know that their expertise is valued, collaboration can occur. This is because the team members can build trust in their peers and have confidence in their actions and intentions. When there is mutual trust, each member of the team can provide and ask for assistance without feeling guilty or being judged as underperforming as a team member.
A well-performing interprofessional team composed of physicians, nurses, pharmacists, social workers, medical assistants, and care managers is instrumental in navigating today’s complex health care system to provide excellent patient care. The collaboration of team members of different expertise can greatly improve patient outcomes. As clinician educators, we strive to teach health professional trainees on how they can provide good quality care for patients. Having a framework to teach interprofessional collaboration is crucial for clinician educators to be successful in achieving this goal.