In today’s busy and demanding patient care environment, many health professionals have come to function almost as silos focused on their own performance in a natural effort to make patient care as efficient a process as possible. Many rehabilitation therapy teams have similarly come to working primarily within their own departments but are certainly in a unique position to collaborate with other healthcare disciplines as roles often complement one another. If we as rehabilitation therapists (RTs) can look for commonalities within the scope of practice with other health professionals with whom we work, we can all contribute to making our workloads more manageable, streamlining our systems of care, and, ultimately, improving patient outcomes.
Our Nursing Partners
In any healthcare setting involving rehab and nursing, both departments address patients’ functional skills (transfers, ambulation, self-care) though with different goals in mind. While nursing provides patients physical assistance with self-care and functional mobility as needed during recovery, rehabilitation therapists focus on these same skills to improve a patient’s functional independence.
Where rehab and nursing do consult one another, it’s more often limited to updating patient medical status as it affects patient participation in therapy, or updating patient progress in therapy for discharge planning. In the hectic course of a typical workday, this often becomes the extent of the rehab-nursing relationship, and each discipline goes about its respective patient care responsibilities. Yet, it’s this sort of together-but-separate type relationship that can inadvertently prevent greater efficiency and efficacy in the overall patient care process.
If we can take this collaborative rehab-nursing relationship further – however, with therapists more closely coordinating treatment interventions with routine nursing care and vice versa whereby nursing staff reinforces functional skills treated through rehab interventions – patients can progress more quickly with the greater frequency of skills practice. As rehab and nursing reciprocally increase the effectiveness of one another’s interventions, this also naturally results in neither discipline working in their own separate realm, but rather more collectively within the same continuum of care.
A collaborative rehab-nursing dynamic can work especially well with occupational therapy interventions in self-care retraining since nursing care inherently involves daily, routine physical assistance with self-care tasks. Occupational therapists (OTs) can, for instance, schedule treatment sessions incorporating self-care activities during a time when nursing staff would typically assist a patient with these same activities. Further, if OTs focus on a particular self-care goal on which to collaborate with nursing, independent performance of that skill can be facilitated during routine nursing care to reinforce gains and strategies acquired in therapy.
As a whole, this same principle of collaboration can apply to all rehab disciplines, including physical and speech therapy, as many functional skills treated within these disciplines are likewise naturally used every day during nursing care.
Ultimately, the benefits of RTs making cooperative, coordinated relationships with other healthcare teams a regular part of their clinical practice extend to all those involved—ourselves and our colleagues as healthcare providers, patients, and even patient families and caregivers. With more effective care coordination, patients are more likely to meet, perhaps exceed, all therapy goals, resulting in greater functional independence at discharge and decreasing the need for family/caregiver assistance at home. Professionally, as providers, we might also find smarter ways to work; in a time of increasing change in healthcare policy and practice this can only help us further our skills and assure the value we provide our patients regardless of what changes may come.