Interdisciplinary Teams in Health Care Work

A U.S./Honduran medical team performs gall bla...For a patient receiving treatment for a serious illness, such as cancer, often there is more frustration in figuring out how to coordinate all their own care at different facilities than there is with the illness itself.

I have a friend who recently received treatment for breast cancer and needed various types of testing performed at different facilities, had different schedules for various proceedures, and many doctors, nurses, and facilities to coordinate with regularly. In addition to her cancer, she also had Irritable Bowel Syndrome and an elevated glucose level but not quite diabetes yet. Some of the cancer medications made these other problems worse. She was more frustrated with running around like crazy trying to coordinate her own care, often receiving conflicting information from different places, than she was with having cancer. She had enough stress from dealing with cancer, that the extra stress she received from the facilities she relied on for care, often nearly drove her to want to stop treatment. She experienced several melt-downs from all fo the stress.

A new concept in care that may help alleviate some of these problems for patients is interdisciplinary teams that coordinate the care and services for patients, especially for complex problems such as cancer.

According to researchers Nandiwada and Dang-Vu, “transdisciplinary health care involves reaching into the spaces between the disciplines to create positive health outcomes through collaboration” (26). They state that the team may involve doctors, nurses, social workers, physical therapists, alternative medicine doctors, and many others.

 The University of North Carolina School of Medicine shows some advantages of these interdisciplinary teams for the the health care facility, for patients, health care professionals, educators and students, and the health care delivery system as a whole at this site:

But to summarize a few of the advantages to patients, facilities, and health care providers, here are a few of the highlights.

For the patient, these interdisciplinary teams “improve care by increasing coordination of services, integrates health care for a wide variety of problems, empowers patients, uses time more efficiently” among other advantages. For my friend, having the support of a team that takes care of some of the more confusing parts of coordinating services for cancer and associated problems, this could mean much relief. She could more easily focus on taking care of herself and reduce her stress.

For the facility, the coordination of services can be cost effective and efficient. Teams of people who work together regularly and are used to working collaboratively can be effective and reduce redundancy and improve efficiency.

For health care professionals, the well coordinated interdisciplinary teams improve the satisfaction and effectiveness of the health care professionals involved, leading to a better work place and improved patient care. The University of North Carolina emphasizes that the teams “increase professional satisfaction, facilities shift in emphasis from acute, episodic care to long-term preventative care, enables the professional to learn new skills and approaches, encourages innovation, and allows providers to focus on individual areas of expertise” (University of North Carolina School of Medicine 1).

Interdisciplinary teams are growing in the health care field. Hopefully, as suggested, they mean better care for the patient, cost reduction for the health care facility, and more satisfaction and effectiveness for the health care practitioner. Do any of you have experience with interdisciplinary teams? What is your experience?

University of North Carolina School of Medicine

Nandiwanda and Dang-Vu (2010). Journal of Health Care for the Poor and Underserved 21 (2010): 26–34.

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