Clinical collaboration among multidisciplinary teams is essential to provide the best possible patient care. But we can also look at multidisciplinary collaboration as the foundation for the healthcare delivery system of tomorrow.

Just how far-reaching are the benefits of facilitating expert counsel from multiple healthcare disciplines? Such vital collaboration can be healthcare's secret weapon—and it can be facilitated easily with the right technology.


What is multidisciplinary collaboration?

Multidisciplinary collaboration is teamwork among multiple professional disciplines. In healthcare, we also refer to it as multidisciplinary care and clinical collaboration. The practice isn't new but has grown in use as treatments become more sophisticated and an increasing number of clinical specialties are needed to positively impact patient care.

For example, consider the treatment for a cancer diagnosis. Decades ago, cancer treatments began to include more options and physicians no longer used one chemotherapy that treated everything, but were able to select from several types of chemotherapies. As time passed, surgical options, radiation therapy, and then genetic counseling were introduced as essential components of a cancer treatment plan. Next came nutritional counseling and mental health considerations.

The range of treatments, and the clinicians providing them, expanded. But historically, every provider spoke with their own voice to the patient and tended to prioritize their part of the treatment. For example: For a cancer patient, there are multiple viable treatment paths depending on the type of cancer and its stage. Should the surgery come first, or chemotherapy and/or radiation? And the questions would continue. Does the patient need nutrition therapy? Should we get genetic therapy before starting treatment? Physicians were asking questions and making many vital decisions that would have been more effectively made in a collaborative forum with a team centered around a cancer patient.

The same scenarios were happening with heart disease patients: There were genetic counselors involved, nutritionists, cardiologists, interventional cardiologists, heart surgeons, and others. In fact, for essentially every condition, we learned over time the benefits of adopting a team-based approach to medical treatments that put the patient at the center. Today, as medicine advances and new specialties and subspecialties are developed, care teams continue to expand and adapt.

Collaboration creates opportunities

It's essential to consider the broad range of benefits that multidisciplinary care and collaboration offer. Role-based collaboration between healthcare professionals who represent different disciplines and offer differing points of view can result in a care plan that best addresses a patient's needs.
 
From a clinician's perspective, there's something truly empowering about working closely with other professionals to provide a comprehensive path to improved health—clinicians learn from one another and are able to provide even higher levels of care.
 
In addition, clinical collaboration teams follow the patient throughout their healthcare journey, providing a sense of continuity. Providers become familiar not only with the patient's case, but with each other, and know how to reach out for quick feedback when necessary. Such multifunctional teamwork frequently produces better outcomes and can reduce inefficiencies. “Multifunctional teams can be more efficient, effective, innovative, and better at risk management compared with purely functional teams,” according to Lyndon Morley and Angela Cashell in “Collaboration in Health Care,” published in the Journal of Medical Imaging and Radiation Sciences
 
For the hospital, multidisciplinary collaboration can highlight duplicate steps or processes to streamline care and:
  • Save time and costs in patient care by consolidating steps
  • Enable reviews of test results in group settings
  • Facilitate the ability to line up appointments to review treatments or prognoses one after the other
Multidisciplinary collaboration also offers genuine benefits to patients, including faster treatment in many cases. In team-based care, physicians can speak with a unified voice, which is less confusing for patients and their families, and helps reduce anxiety. The patient has an entire team of experts on their side, working together for the best outcomes, each bringing their particular area of expertise. 

 

This passionate belief in clinical collaboration's value inspired the use of technology to facilitate cooperation and communication across multiple channels. Specifically, clinical collaboration platforms started with messaging capabilities and have evolved to include sophisticated role-based and teams-based communications.

Challenges of team-building before clinical collaboration platforms

To begin, communication in healthcare has always been difficult. In-person meetings among stakeholders in a patient's care plan are notoriously difficult, too. Clinicians and staff work shifts, are in near-constant motion tending to patients and administrative work, and may work across multiple locations during a shift. Before the existence of technology like clinical collaboration platforms, you might place a call, get an answering machine, and then wait for the person to get back to you and find you available to hold that conversation.

The days of relying on technology like pagers and answering machines have passed, but without a clinical collaboration platform, a great deal of time is still wasted trying to track down clinicians for answers. You might send someone a text but not know that they weren't on the schedule that day. They might be tied up elsewhere and unavailable to respond. You might often not be reaching out to the right person—but even learning that fact could take hours or days.

All of this inefficiency adds time, confusion, and cost to patient care. And it's hard on the patient, too. When someone is in the hospital, they're already concerned and perhaps even scared while they await answers and guidance. Finding ways to provide the best treatment as quickly as possible meant finding a better way to communicate and collaborate using technology.

How clinical collaboration platforms make a positive difference

Treatment protocols require multiple specialists to weigh in on a patient's case, and achieving such collaboration requires innovation. Consider the example of a breast cancer patient:
 
Following a regular mammogram, an abnormality is found. The patient is scheduled to come back in to meet with her doctor to review the test results, and learns the doctor will have to do a biopsy. She is scheduled for that procedure, has the biopsy, and awaits the results. Days later, she receives a call from her doctor's office telling her she will need to see a surgeon. She schedules an appointment as quickly as possible. However, getting that appointment can take weeks. Once at her appointment with the surgeon, he tells her he isn't sure surgery is the right course of action and recommends that she see a medical oncologist. She then sets an appointment with the medical oncologist, again adding days or weeks. During the appointment with the oncologist, the patient is told she could receive chemotherapy, followed by radiation—or have the surgery first. The medical oncologist decides to consult with the surgeon and suggests the patient come back the following week to have a port installed for the chemotherapy.
 
Contrast this example with one where the patient has a biopsy, and the next day at noon, her case is presented at a multidisciplinary tumor board. The specialists she will see for her treatment are all there and will have reviewed her case. They will look at the pathology slides, look at the radiology, and put a plan together, then and there. The genetic counselor is there, as is someone from nutrition. She can have the port installed the same day, come in and see her doctors simultaneously, one after the other, at the same location. She gets her treatment plan and starts chemotherapy within days. She will next have her surgery and, afterward, the radiation treatment. The patient already knows the treatment plan, she has already met the doctors, and she has a nurse navigator with whom she can communicate for anything not covered by her discussions with her doctors. Creating this kind of cohesive, organized teamwork reduces the time this patient has to wait to begin treatment. She can find a level of peace of mind about her health and her treatment plan, which is incredibly valuable in her healing.
 

Technology makes collaboration work

Today's technology makes clinical communication and collaboration in scenarios like the one above almost seamless. Cloud-based clinical collaboration platforms, like Halo Health, now a part of symplr, unify disparate communication modes throughout a healthcare enterprise using mobile devices. The technology provides flexibility and protects sensitive patient data, and makes it convenient for doctors and nurses to send texts via a HIPAA-compliant platform.

Actions such as convening a tumor board for a new patient, reviewing scans and test results—and even collaborating virtually as a team can be accomplished as part of a regular busy daily shift. For example, role-based and team-based messaging means that a clinician can send a message, text, or test result and know that it will get to the right person at the right time—immediately. Hospitals are using this technology to streamline communications and workflows and simplify processes so that doctors and nurses can collaborate easily, no matter when they are working or from what location.

Multidisciplinary collaboration has never been more vital than it is now during the COVID-19 pandemic. Working as a team to assess and treat patients suffering from the virus makes the most of limited resources and helps to support exhausted personnel. For each of the medical professionals working to meet the needs of gravely ill patients, those with the virus, and those who haven't caught it and still need in-hospital care, access to a clinical collaboration platform acts as a secret weapon against a powerful enemy. In every area of collaboration and communication across the entire enterprise and off-campus locations, a cloud-based clinical collaboration platform can make it easier for staff to do their jobs—and do them well. Having this technology at the ready makes delivering the best patient care possible even during a national health emergency.
 
If your healthcare organization would benefit from a a clinical collaboration platform with built-in scheduling functionality and role-based messaging, symplr can help.
 
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