Every medical patient is a person with a unique story and needs. Delivering healthcare that truly promotes well-being requires addressing patients as people whose physical, mental, and spiritual wellness are interconnected. That’s why interdisciplinary care plays a key role in the evolution of nursing.
Today’s nurses can empower their patients and support better health outcomes by embracing an interdisciplinary approach.
What Is Interdisciplinary Nursing?
Interdisciplinary nursing care recognizes that the mind, body, and spirit intersect and influence a person’s overall wellness. Interdisciplinary nurses see each person as a whole, and deliver care accordingly.
Interdisciplinary nurses acknowledge the interconnectedness of a person’s physical, psychological, social, and spiritual aspects. They seek out ways to achieve a balance between those aspects while focusing on addressing underlying conditions. Instead of simply easing symptoms, they strive to avoid future illnesses.
Typically, interdisciplinary nurses combine traditional clinical practices with alternative techniques. As an example, nurses treating pain in patients recovering from a heart attack might administer pain medication intravenously. Simultaneously, they can serve as instruments of healing themselves.
For instance, they use guiding words that help patients to shift from tension to relaxation. They reassure patients that the medication is already entering their bloodstream, and suggest patients close their eyes and breathe deeply. Finally, they soothe patients with the promise to remain at their bedside until they’re pain free.
Tools interdisciplinary nurses typically use include:
- Traditional medication
- Preventive care
- Complementary treatments
Examples of Complementary Care
Complementary treatments can serve as excellent supplements to traditional intervention methods. Some widely practiced examples include:
Mind-body therapies focus on the mind-body connection to influence health. As examples, hypnotherapy can help alleviate different types of pain, meditation can help patients struggling with anxiety, and breathing exercises can help lower blood pressure and restore calm.
Manipulative and Body-Based Methods
Manipulative and body-based methods involve physical manipulation of different body parts to release tension and improve movement, as well as overall well-being. Two well-known types of manipulative and body-based methods are massage and chiropractic therapy.
Biologically Based Therapies
Biologically based therapies involve the use of natural materials — such as herbs, essential oils, and vitamins — to heal and balance the body. Common types of biologically based therapies include:
- Herbal medicine: herbs or plants with therapeutic properties that may treat inflammation or boost the immune system
- Probiotics: live bacteria or yeast that promote a healthy gut
- Aromatherapy: natural plant extracts with a pleasant smell that promote health and well-being
Patients’ ideas, feelings, cultures, and opinions influence their treatment process, recovery, and satisfaction. For this reason, healthcare providers must consider their patients’ mindsets if they want to deliver patient-centered care and achieve results.
To that end, the interdisciplinary approach emphasizes the importance of cultivating collaborative patient-provider relationships built on trust and openness. This can help nurses understand a health condition from the patient’s perspective. It also gives nurses a chance to discover their patients’ cultural and social perspectives and preferences that may be different from their own.
Such relationships encourage better communication and mutual respect. Ultimately, they empower patients to actively direct and participate in their care.
How Interdisciplinary Nurses Support Patients
Interdisciplinary nursing represents an evolution in nursing — a movement from a disease model of care to a wellness model. The value it places on patient contributions to the treatment process also leads to a greater sense of hope, vitality, and self-discipline among patients. Specifically, interdisciplinary nurses support patients in the following areas.
Interdisciplinary nurses support patients’ physical health in several ways. One key focus of interdisciplinary nursing is education. By teaching patients about disease prevention, sexual and reproductive health, nutrition, and lifestyle factors that affect health, interdisciplinary nurses empower patients to make choices that improve their physical well-being.
Interdisciplinary nurses often support traditional treatments with complementary care techniques. Such techniques have shown clear physical benefits. For example, research has shown the positive impact of mind-body therapies. The relaxation response they produce creates changes in biochemistry that promote healing.
Additionally, the interdisciplinary emphasis on the whole person means that a patient’s stress and psychological issues aren’t overlooked. This matters, considering that chronic stress suppresses the immune system, which can lead to illness and disease. By helping patients address their psychological and emotional wellness, interdisciplinary nurses help reduce stress-related physical ailments, lower inflammation, and slow disease progression.
Finally, the whole-person approach of interdisciplinary nursing gives patients advantages when it comes to healing. Rather than feeling too emotionally distraught to focus on their own healing, interdisciplinary care supports patients in other areas of their lives so they can unify their energy and channel it toward recovery.
As an example, a patient with a cancer diagnosis may need spiritual and psychological counseling to help them deal with the emotion and fear of their situation. With this support they can better focus on their physical healing and treatment.
Many people who experience illness or injury struggle to feel joy, pleasure, and purpose. They may also find coping to be psychologically challenging. For example, a car accident survivor may find that the trauma provokes severe anxiety and depression. This can make following a prescribed treatment regimen hard for them.
However, interdisciplinary care evaluates the whole patient and works with patients and their families to develop an effective response. In such circumstances, a nurse could introduce the patient to mindfulness practices, such as integrative body-mind training. This type of meditation involves a high level of body awareness and has been shown to increase positive emotions and decrease stress hormone levels and negative feelings.
Interdisciplinary nurses may support their anxious or depressed patients by using therapeutic communication techniques designed to provide psychological relief. For instance, they may give patients recognition for getting through a hard night, or make hopeful or humorous statements to lighten the mood. They may also apply other complementary care therapies best suited to a patient’s preferences and needs.
Additionally, interdisciplinary nurses, alert to the importance of their patients’ psychological well-being, can add coping or psychological issues to a care plan. They can then refer patients to other healthcare professionals trained to address psychological distress.
Social and Emotional Wellness
Emotional wellness involves self-awareness and self-respect, while social wellness involves engaging in positive relationships marked by healthy communication. The interdisciplinary nursing approach promotes both.
Interdisciplinary nurses spend a great deal of time and effort developing relationships with patients and their families, relationships that focus on supporting their patients’ social growth and reinforcing their sense of value and dignity. Social and emotional wellness emerge from a patient’s thoughts and experiences. The interdisciplinary approach, which gives patients greater agency over their health, often creates a sense of self-efficacy that is key to social and emotional wellness.
As an example, interdisciplinary nurses may ask broad opening questions to engage families in supportive conversations, or they may make affirming statements about a patient’s observations and experiences.
Additionally, interdisciplinary nurses engage their patients in therapies that foster positive thinking. Therapies such as guided imagery — a practice of focusing the mind on calming, harmonious mental images — can bring about a positive mindset and help patients resolve emotional upset and relationship issues.
Cultural and Religious Beliefs
Interdisciplinary nursing care views spiritual health as fundamental to a person’s overall well-being. For this reason, interdisciplinary nurses learn about their patients’ religious and cultural needs. They then work to integrate responses to those needs into their patients’ treatment plans.
This could mean including acupuncture or traditional Chinese medicine into a care regimen, or helping a patient engage in a religious ritual during a hospital stay. Whatever the case, interdisciplinary nurses recognize the significance and value of cultural and religious beliefs and strive to honor them.
Benefits of the Interdisciplinary Nursing Approach
Well-rounded treatment plans that deal with the whole person offer many benefits. The interdisciplinary nursing approach recognizes the complexity of health and healing. It focuses on the many aspects of patients that are responsible for their ongoing wellness and immediate relief. As a result, the interdisciplinary approach can improve long-term outcomes.
Instead of focusing on one or two symptoms, interdisciplinary nurses see the bigger picture. This allows them to deliver comprehensive, high-quality care. It’s especially helpful in settings such as hospices and assisted living facilities, where patients depend on social, psychological, and spiritual support.
Other noteworthy benefits of interdisciplinary nursing include:
- Greater patient participation and empowerment in treatment
- A multipronged approach that addresses multiple issues simultaneously
- Greater use of all the resources that are available
The Growing Need for Interdisciplinary Nurse Practitioners
As healthcare organizations increasingly strive to deliver patient-centered and culturally competent care, the need for more interdisciplinary nurse practitioners has become clear. This nursing approach is especially important today as it champions many practices geared to serving patient populations that are growing more diverse. Interdisciplinary nursing promotes innovative and creative strategies essential to delivering quality care.
Explore an Interdisciplinary Approach to Nursing
While some healthcare approaches focus on treating symptoms and finding causes of disease, interdisciplinary nursing care attends to the whole patient. With compassion and respect, interdisciplinary nurses coordinate a variety of healing, treatment, and preventive regimens that address a patient’s mind, body, and spirit.
The current evolution in nursing fostered by the interdisciplinary approach expands the healthcare community’s ability to deliver high-quality care. Discover how St. Catherine University’s nursing programs prepare graduates to empower patients and develop an innovative nursing practice.
Cleveland Clinic, Guided Imagery