Interprofessional Collaboration in Healthcare: Basics & Benefits

Four health professionals standing together in scrubs and lab coats, nutritionist, physician, social worker, health informaticist

Imagine this: you make the exciting (and frightening) decision to build an addition to your house. Of course, you could try to take on the full project yourself, but most of us would probably at least consult with an electrician, a plumber, and maybe a carpenter before making that first trip to the hardware store. It’s only natural to call on the expertise of others to address tasks that you’re less familiar with, and the work often goes faster and more successfully when those experts communicate with each other to make best use of their skills. In the healthcare industry, this practice is called interprofessional collaboration.

At the University of New England’s recent Interprofessional Showcase, students and practitioners across a wide breadth of vocations considered how they could improve the level of their care by calling on the expertise of their peers who have specialized in other areas of healthcare. Interprofessionalism and interprofessional collaborative practice can be applied to any profession, but it takes on heightened importance when it comes to healthcare and the potential for its impact on patients’ lives.

What is interprofessional collaboration?

Interprofessional collaboration is when “multiple health workers from different professional backgrounds work together with patients, families, carers (caregivers), and communities to deliver the highest quality of care.” (World Health Organization) Through this type of communication and teamwork, individuals can better understand the importance of each health professional’s unique skill set and provide patients vastly improved healthcare experience.

Interprofessionalism does not stem from sitting in the same room, watching the same lecture as other teams, or simply talking about the subject. (For example, this blog would not count as an interprofessional project.) There must be an element of intentional and cross-functional collaboration: a discussion concerning how each professional’s role and strengths can be integrated to provide better care as a whole.

What is the importance of interprofessional collaboration in healthcare?

In 1972, the Institute of Medicine started encouraging “team-based practice,” but the idea didn’t fully catch on at the time. Within a few decades, an issue arose: several studies pointed to medical errors as a leading cause of death in patients (though there is some argument around this exact statistic). Regardless of the official tally, the healthcare community investigated their practices and found they could potentially decrease medical errors by sharing information and responsibilities between teams and by encouraging collaboration.

Through this dedication to sharing knowledge and duties, the medical community found that interprofessionalism improves patient outcomes and their rate of satisfaction, saves costs, and even raises the job satisfaction of medical caregivers.

Simply put, this kind of interdisciplinary, team-based care can save lives.

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How do I know if I’m participating in interprofessional care?

It’d be easy to say that interprofessional care is being practiced just because a number of team-members come from different disciplines. Instead, there needs to be cross-collaboration before it can be called “interprofessional.” Consider the original house addition example: you might have both a plumber and an electrician, but if the electrician isn’t checking in with the plumber to make sure they aren’t putting in wires where the pipes are supposed to go, you’re going to get a much less effective and efficient process (and maybe even a shock-y result)!

Here are the official four core competencies, or pillars, of interprofessional collaborative practice that you can check to see if you’re practicing interprofessional care:

  1. A mutual respect of values and ethics
  2. An understanding of everyone’s roles and responsibilities
  3. Frequent communication between patients, families, communities, and professionals in health and other fields
  4. Application of relationship-building values to perform and collaborate effectively in different team roles

Dr. Michael Christie, who pioneered an interprofessional initiative at Penobscot Community Health Care in Maine, puts this another way. He states that interprofessional team needs three things:

  1. Feedback: By discussing your actions, you can learn from each other and plan to improve in the future
  2. Fun: Of course, you want to enjoy working with your teammates
  3. Humility: Remember, you don’t know what you don’t know


Read more: “You don’t know what you don’t know” is also a favorite adage of UNE Ed.D. graduate and professor Dan Mickool. Learn more about his dissertation and practice concerning interprofessional care in this video.

Examples of interprofessional collaboration in healthcare

At the IPC Showcase, Karen Morgan, D.O., a Pediatrician Lead Preceptor in New Hampshire, listed the multiple medical professionals she might need to coordinate to address the needs of one patient: a nutritionist to figure out a meal plan, a social worker for transportation, translation services to explain care to the patient’s family, and maybe even an allergist to decide if the annual flu shot will be helpful or harmful in light of the patient’s other medical concerns—and that’s all outside of managing her everyday team!

Likewise, there are several initiatives at Penobscot Community Health Care that employ interprofessional practices to best serve their patients. One of these, the Transitions of Care Program conceived by the aforementioned Dr. Michael Christie, embraces the skills of five different roles to reduce hospital admission rates.

In this program, team members organize home visits with recently-released patients: a health informatician created and now maintains a software program to identify high-risk patients; the provider prescribes medications and healthcare regimens and coordinates the team; a pharmacist makes sure the patient receives the correct medication; a social worker checks in to make sure the patient has adequate transportation and can afford their bills (medical and otherwise); and a care manager visits to follow up on their general well-being. These professionals constantly check in with each other to provide updates and feedback on patients’ statuses, and adjust care plans as each situation warrants.

With this multi-team approach, the Transitions of Care Program saw a 38% reduction in hospital readmissions rates and a 5.3% reduction in the mortality rate in the first year. This is another example of how interprofessional practice has the potential to save lives.

Learn more

Are you interested in joining (or assembling) an interprofessional health team, but need additional education? Consider one of UNE Online’s graduate programs in the health professions by downloading our online program guide today:

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