10 Traits of a Strong Interdisciplinary Team

Over the course of four days in a hospital, a patient may see dozens of employees, including physicians, nurses, lab technicians and physical therapists. Unfortunately, up to 80 percent of serious medical errors are the result of miscommunication when a patient is handed from one healthcare professional to another, according to The Joint Commission.

With the Affordable Care Act, more patients will have access to healthcare than ever before. With an aging population that increasingly suffers from multiple chronic illnesses, requiring a complex set of skills and knowledge for effective treatment, clear communication is paramount to prevent harmful and costly medical errors and readmissions.

To improve communication lines and patient outcomes and reduce adverse health events, it is imperative to build a strong interdisciplinary team. Pooling the talents of several professionals with various skills and specialties enables the best care possible because the primary care team gets the support of numerous disciplines—including pharmacists, counselors, healthcare administrators, billing staff and supply chain managers.

How to Build Your Team

Several factors can drive team-building decisions, among them: an overlapping patient pool, shared resources or communication lines, complementary healthcare services, and similar core attitudes and approaches to medicine. But these connections alone don’t make a strong interdisciplinary team. Recent research published in the journal Human Resources for Health identified 10 core traits that make an interdisciplinary team successful:

1. Positive leadership and management attributes. There must be a clear leader to establish direction and vision for the team. The leader must listen to team members in order to provide keen support and supervision.

2. Communication strategies and structures. Not only must technology and systems support communication among team members, but members of the team must also have strong communication skills.

3. Personal rewards, training and development. Include opportunities for team members to learn, develop and advance, and incorporate rewards to boost morale and motivation.

4. Appropriate resources and procedures. Put in place structure and procedures to uphold the team vision. For example, plan regular team meetings, implement organizational technologies and improve communication systems.

5. Appropriate skill mix. Ensure that the team’s collective skills appropriately satisfy the needs of your patient base. Consider physician specialties and personalities, and fill any staffing holes in a timely manner.

6. Supportive team environment. Team members must trust each other, value each other’s contributions and work toward consensus.

7. Individual characteristics that support interdisciplinary teamwork. The collective goals, knowledge, experience, strengths and weaknesses of the team must be considered.

8. Clarity of vision. Set forth a clearly defined set of values and roadmap for all team members to drive the direction of service.

9. Quality and outcomes of care. Results and feedback are critical. Employ a patient-centered focus, encourage feedback and chart results to continually improve care.

10. Respecting and understanding roles. Finally, all members of the team must have some shared power in order to work together to achieve the team’s vision.

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