Describing Healthcare Teams in a Modern System

As population health care needs change, the trend towards teams of health professionals from various disciplines working together to deliver coordinated client care is undeniable. Through multiple disciplinary approaches we can:

  • resolve real world or complex problems
  • provide different perspectives on problems
  • create comprehensive research questions
  • develop consensus clinical definitions and guidelines
  • provide comprehensive health services. 

Describing healthcare teams

Descriptors such as “interprofessional,” “multiprofessional,” “interdisciplinary,” and “multidisciplinary” are terms used to describe both members of different professions working together as health care teams and ways in which health care teams collaborate. However, there are some consistent distinctions that are useful to understand.

Consistency in the use of terms to describe different health care teams in policy, education, training, clinical practice, and research can:

  • improve communication between sectors
  • enable individual groups to focus on improving the contribution that each make to the client health care journey
  • provide greater clarity for consumers.

In Marilyn Stember’s 1990 paper Advancing the social sciences through the interdisciplinary enterprise, we’re offered the following overview of different levels of disciplinarity:

Intradisciplinary: working within a single discipline.

Crossdisciplinary: viewing one discipline from the perspective of another.

Multidisciplinary: people from different disciplines working together, each drawing on their disciplinary knowledge.

Interdisciplinary: integrating knowledge and methods from different disciplines, using a real synthesis of approaches.

Transdisciplinary: creating a unity of intellectual frameworks beyond the disciplinary perspectives.

The latter is one more step towards full integration of the natural, social and health sciences in a humanities context.


If we were to quickly break down the two most common used teamwork terms, it would look something like this…

Multidisciplinarity draws on knowledge from different disciplines but stays within their boundaries. Multidisciplinary teams consult with the same patient/client but are unable to develop a cohesive care plan as each team member uses his or her own expertise to develop individual care goals.

Interdisciplinarity analyses, synthesises and harmonises links between disciplines into a coordinated and coherent whole. Each team member in an interdisciplinary team builds on each other’s expertise to achieve common, shared goals. Team members work together to improve the experience or outcome for the patient by sharing skills, competencies and knowledge across different practices.

Still confused? These papers can explain further: 

Multidisciplinarity, interdisciplinarity, and transdisciplinarity in health research, services, education and policy: 2. Promotors, barriers, and strategies of enhancement

Ten principles of good interdisciplinary team work

Framework for Action on Interprofessional Education & Collaborative Practice 

Assessing the facilitators and barriers of interdisciplinary team working in primary care using normalisation process theory: An integrative review

Health Care Partnerships: A Literature Review of Interdisciplinary Education

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