Multidisciplinary teams in geriatric wards: myth or reality?



This paper argues that the rhetoric of multidisciplinary teamwork is central to the provision of health care generally and geriatric care in particular. Yet the notion of teamwork is poorly defined, and the supposed benefits for patients are not always readily apparent. Looking at teamwork in practice, examples from research are used to illustrate how multidisciplinary decision making and work with patients can, under particular circumstances, take on the appearance of collaboration amongst a team of expert colleagues, which co-opts patients and relatives to the status of team members. But very often, multidisciplinary work with patients is coordinated not by mutual collaboration amongst a team of equals, but by means of established work routines which are broadly applied to whole categories of patients, and by the operation of the traditional hierarchy of social relations in health care. For long stay patients, the pervasiveness of the teamwork mythology and the frequent concurrent withdrawal of other professionals can, at worst, leave the nurses in the invidious position of having responsibility, but no formal or legal authority for caring for their patients: work which no other professional is anxious to do. This leads to negative outcomes for patients as well as for nurses.

Finally, it is stressed that analysis of multidisciplinary teamwork both in theory and in practice is vital if we are to understand the conditions under which multidisciplinary teamwork both flourishes, and can be demonstrated to be a necessary condition for the creation of positive care outcomes for geriatric patients in hospital. This paper seeks to raise some of the issues which must be confronted in this endeavour.