Teamwork Among Healthcare Professionals: Why It Works, and Why It’s So Hard

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As therapists, we spend a great deal of time teaching other people how to communicate effectively. We teach couples how to talk to each other, and we instruct parents on the best ways to work with their children. Yet, how often do we focus on our own communication skills?

Particularly, when it comes to working with other professionals, we as healers might put our own communication techniques on the back burner. However, it’s time to stop doing that, and here’s why.

According to a landmark study entitled, “Ten Principles of Good Interdisciplinary Teamwork,” led by Susan A. Nancarrow, et. al, out of Australia, working as a team to provide the best care to our patients is paramount. Some of the reasons that these researchers believe that the need for interdisciplinary teamwork has increased include:

  • An aging population where more patients are experiencing chronic diseases, which require complex care
  • The increasing complexity of skills and knowledge needed to provide the best care possible to patients
  • Increasing specialization of skills in the healthcare profession, leading to an inability for a single provider to meet all of the needs of her patient
  • A cultural shift toward multi-professional teamwork; and,
  • The pursuit of continuity of care.

However, even though we may understand the need to work as a team in the interest of patient care, it doesn’t mean that it’s always easy to do so. The above study, for example, found that healthcare professionals face a unique set of challenges when working as a team. These challenges include: “the contentious nature of sharing professional roles and expertise, planning and decision-making, while delivering quality patient care within complex contexts.”

To mitigate these challenges, the researchers illustrate some of the characteristics of teams that work exceptionally well together. These teams:

  • Identify a concrete leader who’s willing to establish the direction of the team, all while encouraging each team members’ creativity along the way.
  • Develop a set of values that each member is willing to constantly practice.
  • Create a positive atmosphere that promotes team culture.
  • Constantly reach out to patients for feedback, and find ways to keep making improvements based on these comments and concerns.
  • Collaborate on a daily basis by integrating your skills and knowledge to provide the best quality care possible.
  • Recognize each other on a regular basis with rewards and accolades.
  • Provide the opportunity for continued education and career development with annual trainings.

So, basically, teams who emphasize communication, a trusting environment, and positive recognition are able to work well together. Seems simple enough, right? Well, according to a host of research studies, it’s not always so easy. These studies point to one major barrier that emerges from the research: Hierarchical differences between healthcare providers. In other words, when there is a power differential (because of education, salary, or status), between providers, communication tends to be distorted or withheld. Sometimes, this happens because one person does not want to appear incompetent, offend the other, or believes that the other person is not open to communication. Whatever the reason, it is our job as providers to push past these limitations and communicate effectively: Our clients’ welfare depends on it.

Here at Therapy Hive, we want to connect you with like-minded professionals who will help to enhance your practice. Contact us to find out more!

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