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Health and social services professionals’ skills in interprofessional collaborative practices in the telehealth context

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About the project

Interprofessional collaboration is aimed at benefitting patients by broadly improving the delivery of health care and social services. For several years now, a broad range of efforts have been implemented to promote such collaboration in various health-care settings. However, with the overwhelming increase in telehealth and, in particular, the past year’s COVID‑19 pandemic, the majority of health-care professionals have been forced to adapt their practices swiftly and in circumstances that are not necessarily conducive to effectiveness.

This fast‑paced digital shift has had a particular impact on how professionals communicate with each other. Since the skills needed for interprofessional communication and collaboration are different in a virtual context, our team used a scoping review to conduct a rapid synthesis of the scientific literature in order to identify the collaborative-practices skills required so that health and social services professionals can perform their duties online. A secondary objective of the study was to determine whether the digital shift in professional communications had caused any backsliding in collaborative practices, and whether it had led professionals to go back to working within their own disciplinary silos.

Key findings

  • Limited digital literacy is a major factor in preventing health and social services professionals from accepting and effectively using new digital tools for interprofessional collaboration.
  • The articles and documents we reviewed in this study revealed that communication is central to successful interprofessional collaboration in the telehealth context. Regular communication between members of a care team, regardless of the distance between them or the technology primarily used for two‑way communication, is a key factor. Many organizations already have information‑sharing technology available, but such communication methods do not inherently ensure that direct communication among professionals will not fall by the wayside.
  • The current scientific literature has only minimally discussed the specific skills needed for interprofessional collaboration in the virtual care context; only general skills are addressed in the literature.
  • The virtual context will be a hindrance factor for interprofessional collaboration, unless professionals develop specific skills for interprofessional collaboration.
  • According to our scoping review, the following measures are critical for supporting solid interprofessional collaboration in the telehealth context:
    • presence of a virtual collaboration champion in clinical settings
    • frequent assessment of training needs
    • promotion of the benefits of using technology to collaborate
    • support for professionals to acquire sufficient and adequate interprofessional and technological training (initial and ongoing)
    • availability of suitable technological equipment
    • recognition that interprofessional collaboration requires skills similar to in‑person collaboration, but uses them in different ways
  • Understanding and recognizing the role played by each team member can be of great importance for ensuring professionals’ motivation and trust. Furthermore, without a pre‑existing collaborative relationship, it can be difficult for professionals to develop trust relationships with each other in a telehealth context.
  • Interprofessional conflict resolution, which is also part of the Interprofessional Competency Framework, is practically absent from discussion in the literature.

Policy implications

Based on these findings, we recommend that:

  • The government use financial incentives to enable health institutions to invest in modern telecommunication equipment.
  • Educational institutions include technological training in the foundational curriculum.
  • Health institutions encourage the use of technology by providing professionals with sufficient continuing education, equipment and technical support; by providing leadership and displaying positive attitudes to technology and virtual forms of collaboration; and by setting up an interprofessional conflict resolution strategy specifically tailored to the virtual context.
  • Decision makers support the development of integrated technology that supports interprofessional collaboration, and develop general guidelines and clear and consistent practice guides for telehealth.
  • Professionals take initiative to increase their digital literacy, use strategies that prioritize interprofessional collaboration for telehealth and develop their skills for upholding safety and ethics when providing virtual care and engaging in interprofessional collaboration.
  • Researchers study the unanticipated effects of telehealth on patients and professionals and the cognitive effects of long‑distance work on interprofessional collaboration.
  • Patients prepare for telehealth appointments with user-friendly technological tools.
  • Health technology vendors facilitate interoperability between existing tools and develop technological platforms and applications that enable professionals and patients to bring to bear the skills needed for interprofessional collaboration.

Further information

Read the full report

Contact the researchers

Marie-Eve Poitras, PhD in nursing sciences, Professor and Research Chair in Optimal Professional Practices in Primary Care, Université de Sherbrooke: marie-eve.poitras@usherbrooke.ca

Yves Couturier, Professor, Université de Sherbrooke: yves.couturier@usherbrooke.ca

The views expressed in this evidence brief are those of the authors and not those of SSHRC, the Future Skills Centre or the Government of Canada.

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