Recurrent patterns of success included actively engaged nurses supported in standardizing their own processes of care according to the IHI bundles and empowered and supported in monitoring and enforcing those standards across disciplines, including with their physician colleagues (Berwick et al., 2006). Encouraged to innovate locally to adapt changes to local contexts, nurses proved the ideal leaders for changing care systems and raising the bar on results.
One new role for nurses that taps their potential as innovators is the clinical nurse leader (CNL), an advanced generalist clinician role designed to improve clinical and cost outcomes for specific groups of patients. Responsible for coordinating care and in some cases actively providing direct care in complex situations, the CNL has the responsibility for translating and applying research findings to design, implement, and evaluate care plans for patients (AACN, 2007). This new role has been adopted by the VA system.
The need for greater interprofessional collaboration has been emphasized since the 1970s. Studies have documented, for example, the extent to which poor communication and lack of respect between physicians and nurses lead to harmful outcomes for patients (Rosenstein and O’Daniel, 2005; Zwarenstein et al., 2009). Conversely, a growing body of evidence links effective teams to better patient outcomes and more efficient use of resources (Bosch et al., 2009; Lemieux-Charles and McGuire, 2006; Zwarenstein et al., 2009), while good working relationships between physicians and nurses have been cited as a factor in improving the retention of nurses in hospitals (Kovner et al., 2007). As the delivery of care becomes more complex across a wide range of settings, and the need to coordinate care among multiple providers becomes ever more important, developing well-functioning teams becomes a crucial objective throughout the health care system.
Differing professional perspectives—with attendant differences in training and philosophy—can be beneficial. Nurses are taught to treat the patient not only from a disease management perspective but also from psychosocial, spiritual, and family and community perspectives. Physicians are experts in physiology, disease pathways, and treatment. Social workers are trained in family dynamics. Occupational and physical therapists focus on improving the patient’s functional capacity. Licensed practical nurses provide a deeply ground-level perspective, given their routine of measuring vital signs and assisting patients in feeding, bathing, and movement. All these perspectives can enhance patients’ well-being—provided the various professionals keep the patient and family at the center of their attention.
Finding the right balance of skills and professional expertise is important under the best of circumstances; in a time of increasing financial constraints, personnel shortages, and the growing need to provide care across multiple settings, it is crucial. Care teams need to make the best use of each member’s education,