HealthApril 12, 2024

Helping nurses to collaborate across disciplines for better patient outcomes

As healthcare becomes more complex, collaboration between nurses and other health professionals can help to deliver high-quality care.

Interdisciplinary collaboration in healthcare seeks to tap into the expertise of healthcare professionals from many disciplines to improve patient outcomes and enable person-centred care.

For nurses, that means working with professionals who play an important role in patients’ lives, such as doctors, pharmacists, social workers, healthcare workers, dietitians, psychologists, and other caregivers.

In its Strengthening Medicare Taskforce Report, the Federal Government highlights the importance of incentivising high-quality models of multidisciplinary team-based care. Several states have highlighted the importance of interdisciplinary or multidisciplinary care initiatives to drive coordinated person-centred care.

This collaborative care approach requires professionals skilled at working across all stakeholders – a role that is well suited to experienced nurses who are often at the centre of care coordination.

An increasingly complex healthcare environment makes it all the more important that healthcare professionals learn to collaborate.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), collaborative practice happens when “multiple health workers from different professional backgrounds work together with patients, families, carers, and communities to deliver the highest quality of care across settings”.

As the largest group of registered healthcare professionals in Australia with involvement across the care continuum, nurses are well-placed to coordinate and communicate across an interdisciplinary or multidisciplinary team.

Collaborative nursing model

Efforts to tap into this interdisciplinary expertise are being explored at a state and federal level and within some healthcare organisations.

Victoria’s Department of Health notes that an interdisciplinary approach to caring can improve outcomes, processes, and levels of patient satisfaction. By working together while respecting the expertise and autonomy of different stakeholders, collaborative teams can:

  • Establish clear goals and an understanding of shared roles and responsibilities
  • Participate in joint assessment, diagnosis and goal setting
  • Encourage team cohesiveness
  • Support less experienced team members to ask questions and offer alternative perspectives
  • Foster higher overall effectiveness and potentially higher levels of innovation.

NSW Health emphasises integrated care strategies to transform outcomes, including having multidisciplinary teams to provide the most comprehensive care possible. Professionals who might contribute to the team include GPs, practice and community health nurses, allied health professionals, health educators, and specialists.

A Commonwealth commitment

As part of its efforts to address challenges facing the healthcare system and meet the goal of person-centred care, the Federal Government is seeking to ensure primary care meets current and future needs.

In its Strengthening Medicare Taskforce Report, the government has highlighted the importance of multidisciplinary, team-based care that “harnesses the strengths of a diverse health workforce”, including GPs, nurses, midwives, pharmacists, and allied health professionals.

“Optimal use of the nursing skill set as part of a multidisciplinary team promotes an integrated care model and improved patient experiences,” the paper states.

The role of nurses within a multidisciplinary team is well-established in some areas. For example, nurses will have regular contact with patients living with diabetes and, as such, play an integral role in helping those patients manage their condition as part of a multidisciplinary team.

Team care for older patients

One area of healthcare where interdisciplinary or multidisciplinary care is most crucial is with older patients who often have comorbidities that require support from many different healthcare professionals.

In its consultation paper on Developing the National Nursing Workforce Strategy, the Department of Health and Aged Care noted that nurses play a central role in a multidisciplinary team providing high-quality health, aged and disability care and coordination, and perform key functions across all service settings. Furthermore, nurses tend to have the highest contact rates within acute care, residential aged care, and remote settings.

A separate Department of Health scoping study proposed a model of care for care homes that would include embedding a dedicated care coordinator – ideally a nurse or allied health professional — within a residential care home to lead a multidisciplinary team.

Team nursing

In addition to interdisciplinary teams, some healthcare centres have looked to adopt a team nursing model, particularly in the wake of the challenges faced with Covid. Under this model, members of the nursing team perform specific tasks to support total patient care, typically under the supervision of an experienced registered nurse (RN).

The RN functions as the team leader, oversees and coordinates the work of a team of clinicians and other care providers for a group of patients, and in many cases also orients new graduate nurses. Other nurses, such as enrolled nurses (ENs), may take on the role of communicating with medical staff as well as patients and their families.

Supporting collaboration

While interdisciplinary care is beneficial to patient care and to supporting a person-centric model, it does require some effort and planning by the healthcare organisation. Key features of a successful interdisciplinary care plan include:

  • Good time management – Interdisciplinary care plans should be structured and consistent.
  • Communication skills – Effective communication techniques that enhance interdisciplinary collaboration should be provided to all team members.
  • Clear responsibilities – Define each person’s responsibilities, ensure inter-team respect, and make sure there is transparency with information shared.

Interdisciplinary care also requires good infrastructure to support cross-functional communication. One key objective of the Australian Government’s Digital Health Blueprint is to enable healthcare practitioners to work collaboratively as part of a team to support their patients’ care.

With an aging population living with more comorbidities, it is becoming increasingly important to streamline coordination between healthcare professionals. Interdisciplinary teams with nurses at the centre offer a way to better enable person-centred care.

Find out more about how Lippincott® Solutions can support nurses as part of an interdisciplinary care team.

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