The importance of collaborative care for primary care

Multiple investigative and anecdotal studies have shown that collaborative care benefits patients in many ways. Research also shows that collaborating can benefit the primary care physician and the clinical teams providing that care.

For patients with chronic conditions, who make up a substantial portion of the patient population in general, collaborative care is essential. These patients require coordination between their primary care and specialty care, including laboratories and diagnostic testing centers. Moving back and forth between various healthcare providers increases the risk of medical errors, duplications, and fragmented care.

The primary care provider plays an important role in the care of patients with multimorbidity, in particular. Successfully managing these patients requires seamless and easy access to visit notes, diagnoses, and treatment plans that originate from the specialty, or secondary, providers. In turn, the specialty provider needs access to the primary care provider’s patient-related knowledge, including insight into the primary care plan for these patients.

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Collaborative care is also critical for coordinating the treatment of a patient’s mental and physical health. Patients tend to visit their primary care provider to discuss their physical symptoms when they may also have a need to talk about their mental health. In these cases, the collaborative care team can include the primary care provider, a mental health specialist, and other specialty providers.

Each team member in the collaborative care arrangement is held accountable as they share their patient knowledge. Goals are aligned with those of the other team members as they share treatment ideas and outcomes as well as recommendations for care. The overall goal, of course, is to ensure the best possible outcome for the patient.

The importance of collaborative care can be seen in the benefits realized by the patient and by the primary care provider. Collaboration and coordination of care have been shown to:

  • Reduce preventable adverse drug reactions
  • Decrease morbidity and mortality rates
  • Reduce medical errors
  • Optimize medication dosages
  • Improve the overall quality of care.

The teamwork involved in collaborative care has also been shown to provide benefits to health care providers, including reducing extra work and increasing job satisfaction. Healthcare experts have come to the consensus that a collaboratively practicing workforce will be more responsive, efficient, and considerate of patient, family, and community roles, as well as providing improved care.

Staff satisfaction and retention is higher in health care organizations where staff members engage in a collaborative culture of quality and safety. Other benefits to staff include greater perceptions of empowerment and recognition. Highly collaborative, high performance teams may also drive value and process improvement, innovation, initiative, and performance.

Collaboration also improves patient education and engagement in their care, which can include behavioral changes, involvement in decision-making, and more active participation in self-care. Most importantly, reductions in the rates of medical error among collaborative teams improves the safety and well-being of patients as primary care providers are able to avoid gaps and provide the quality care necessary for improved patient outcomes.