We know that our current healthcare systems aren’t set up to provide appropriate care for patients with complex health and social needs and that the result is poor patient outcomes despite the enormous expenditure of resources. What we don’t always talk about is the way that these same systems affect the providers who feel powerless to change them, and how the resulting burnout affects providers and patients alike. Luckily, an important part of the solution is gaining momentum across the country: interprofessional teaming.
Clinician burnout is at epidemic levels in healthcare and social services, with doctors, nurses, social workers, and more all struggling to manage increasingly burdensome requirements and complex problems with shorter visits and fewer resources. Given that, it’s easy to think that a shift to more complex care would lead to more burnout. After all, complex care intentionally focuses on patients struggling with difficult, interrelated, and deeply rooted problems— exactly the patients that frustrated providers might dismissively call “difficult,” “non-compliant,” or “frequent flyers.”
It turns out that when we talk to clinicians that have started complex care initiatives, we find the exact opposite. Providers who previously felt like they were “just running through the motions,” frustrated at seeing the same patients and the same problems over and over, start feeling like they can help their patients and clients make meaningful progress toward their goals. The key is having the right tools and teams in place to provide holistic, coordinated care so that everyone on the team can work to the top of their license.
Though providers can start working in interprofessional teams at any point in their careers, early interprofessional training means that providers enter the workforce already armed with the teaming skills and systems thinking needed to provide effective team-based care. At the National Center, we have seen huge success with our Interprofessional Student Hotspotting Learning Collaborative, which trains hundreds of students around the country every year to work in interprofessional teams to provide compassionate, whole-person care to people with complex health and social needs in their own communities.
In the Student Hotspotting program, students learn by doing, and we have seen encouraging results. Students in the program represent both traditional healthcare disciplines like medicine, nursing, social work, pharmacy, and physical therapy, and disciplines not traditionally included in healthcare, like business, anthropology, law, and policy.
Interprofessional teaming helped student hotspotters:
- Gain new perspectives on the problems their patients identify
- Work with the full range of resources that are available to help their patients
- Help patients navigate the complicated healthcare and social service systems
- Generate a collective focus on care and overcome existing authority and rank structures that are common in healthcare settings
“Joy in work” initiatives that don’t address the root causes of burnout, including system-wide fragmentation that isolates providers from their patients and from each other, are destined to fail. In order to produce meaningful results for individuals with complex health and social needs, providers across disciplines and sectors need to be able to work together.
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