Ways to stop good clinicians leaving pain management (iii)

I’m an old hack when it comes to teamwork and pain management: I’ve worked in this field a long time. I’m familiar with reactions to both interpersonal differences within a team (and the myriad ways these can be expressed), and to the discourse that happens when posting a publicly available message. In fact, that’s why I publish on social media: so we can have open conversations rather than ones hidden behind paywalls, or in rarified academic settings. Humans are odd, and when poked – even when poked with good evidence – want to react, to bite back. The following comments are not about any specific organisation. I’ll repeat that: comments about what we do in healthcare (ie bullying – nurses call this ‘horizontal violence’, stigmatising, excluding, not supporting etc) in the two articles I’ve written so far on how to prevent good clinicians do not relate to any one organisation. They are based on personal experience (my own) and experiences I’ve read in the literature.

There is an elephant in the room. It’s possibly the biggest one we have in teamwork and it’s about dispute resolution. How do we resolve contrasting clinical models, interpersonal styles, personal and professional values, hierarchies (explicit or implicit) without compromising important and valid points, and without blowing relationships between team members out of the water? An alternative is to leave, as I did, having seen several clinicians put through the wringer by accusations of bullying and being the recipient of bullying myself.

I’m drawn to Dr Todd B. Kashdan’s work in his most recent book “The Art of Insubordination: How to dissent and defy effectively” because he offers well-researched strategies for individuals and groups to disrupt the status quo – not for the purpose of disrupting for the sake of it, but because of personal integrity and ethical standards. Values that clash with “received wisdom”. Creative ideas that could change practice positively, but land flat because they’re “different”. The desire to create social value – not from a place of “I’m superior, you should do it my way” or spite “I just want to get you back for being dominant” or self-interest “I want you to do this because it’ll line my pockets” (p. 11., The Art of Insubordination).

You see, principled insubordination is one reason for disputes in teams. It could be an occupational therapist identifying that participating in daily life really matters to people with chronic pain but working in a team where everyone gets the same recipe for treatment. It might be a physiotherapist who sees that there could be ways to see people in small groups, rather than individually – but gets smacked down because “that’s not the way we do it”. It might be the social worker who dreams of bringing whanau/family into pain management, but can’t get a toe in the door of a team with a strong medical procedure focus.

Each of these people holds strong values, wants to be person-centred, can see there are opportunities, and sincerely communicates them to the team. Even the idea of interprofessional or transprofessional working, where each person steps up to do what matters to the person in front of them although it doesn’t look like conventional “role division” can be an effective way to be a radical and principled rebel.

While the ideas Todd articulates SO well in his book are absolutely worth doing if you’re the principled rebel, one thing I worry about is placing the responsibility only on the rebel. It’s difficult being the one swimming against the current. It can lead to personal isolation, burnout, poor team trust, difficulty sharing information that is unique to your profession (or your encounters with a patient), less reporting critical problems and ultimately, to closing down and walking away (O’Donovan, De Brun & McAuliffe, 2021).

Stephanie Zajac and colleagues (Zajac, et al., 2021) developed a framework for healthcare team effectiveness and clearly identifies the crucial contribution of the organisation, team leadership, technical competence and having team roles and purpose (Fig. 1, p. 4). Without a supportive culture, executive leadership and teamwork reinforcement as a value, the organisational conditions likely work against effective teamwork. Without shared leadership, accountability and coaching, teams flounder and fragment. Without adequate training, the capability to do the work well, and sufficient staffing, teams don’t have sufficient technical competence to be effective. Finally, without role definitions, team directions and developing and monitoring team norms, teams will likely experience conflict and who should or can do tasks, and what’s OK and not OK within the team. Note this doesn’t inevitably mean “my role” and “your role” – inter and transprofessional team work demands blurring between roles. This is about articulating and being clear about how team members work together.

And who needs to ensure these organisational “meta-team skills” are clear, supported and maintained? Yes, it’s everyone’s job – but it’s also the organisation’s leadership team’s job to make sure it happens. After all, the leadership team should have skin in the game.

Conflict is inevitable. Some schools of thought believe that conflict is healthy, a sign of divergent thinking rather than conformity, that conflict enables people to challenge their own assumptions (O’Neill, Allen & Hastongs, 2013). At the same time, forms of conflict can be painful and damaging to the individuals involved. Disagreeing about what is done is less damaging than conflict with a member of the team. Consequently, two points spring to mind: 1. Left to fester, interpersonal conflict will reduce team trust, and ultimately stymie collaboration. People will revert to silence, and a “them and us” will emerge. Processes involving transparent, open conversations (see this link), often moving beyond the key antagonists and into the whole team, are crucial. These may involve clear policies and procedures, and need to be facilitated – preferably by someone external to the team, but knowledgeable. 2. “Ground rules” must be established about how to disagree, challenge one another, articulate different perspectives. Why? Because disagreement and conflict is inevitable, so we need to minimise the fall-out, but more importantly, because conflict when well-managed is the lifeblood of creativity and responsiveness (psst! it’s also really good for critical thinking).

Kim, S., Bochatay, N., Relyea-Chew, A., Buttrick, E., Amdahl, C., Kim, L., Frans, E., Mossanen, M., Khandekar, A., Fehr, R., & Lee, Y. M. (2017, May). Individual, interpersonal, and organisational factors of healthcare conflict: A scoping review. Journal of Interprofessional Care, 31(3), 282-290.

O’Donovan, R., De Brun, A., & McAuliffe, E. (2021). Healthcare Professionals Experience of Psychological Safety, Voice, and Silence. Frontiers in Psychology, 12, 626689.

O’Neill, T. A., Allen, N. J., & Hastings, S. E. (2013). Examining the “Pros” and “Cons” of TeamConflict: A Team-Level Meta-Analysis of Task, Relationship, and Process Conflict. Human Performance, 26(3), 236-260.

Zajac, S., Woods, A., Tannenbaum, S., Salas, E., & Holladay, C. L. (2021). Overcoming Challenges to Teamwork in Healthcare: A Team Effectiveness Framework and Evidence-Based Guidance. Frontiers in Communication, 6(6).

Scopes, roles, interprofessional practice and person-centred healthcare

A topic that almost immediately gets my hackles up is the one of scopes and roles in pain management and rehabilitation. It’s like “Oooh but that’s MY stuff, get out of it!” and I can see Gollum saying “my preciousssss”…

I trained and graduated in 1984. As a raw newbie occupational therapist I couldn’t articulate much of what my profession brought to healthcare, except that I knew “doing”, “activities” or “occupation” was important to human wellbeing, and that I’d been trained to analyse these. I’ve learned a lot since then and got a PhD in the process. Developing as people and as clinicians is, I hope, deeply embedded in us as professionals.

Interprofessional practice is a model of healthcare recommended in pain management and rehabilitation (Oslund, et al., 2009). Interdisciplinary/interprofessional teams involve different health professionals working alongside one another using their areas of expertise, but where all use a common over-arching model such as a biopsychosocial approach. Teams meet regularly to collaborate on treatment goals and priorities (Ruan & Kaye, 2016). There is limited hierarchy and extensive communication, cooperation, and overlap between team members (Körner, 2010).

True interprofessional practice is rare. Why? Because teams on paper are not teams. Teams need time together both formally and informally, stability amongst members, a pool of common knowledge as well as an understanding of what each team member brings in to the mix. Needless to say, high trust is crucial, along with ongoing communication (Zajak et al., 2021). We can’t just use professional labels to know what another profession can offer because we [should] keep on developing.

One of the largest contributors to poor interprofessional teamwork is lack of confidence. Not just lack of confidence in the skills of the other team members, but lack of confidence in one’s own professional contribution. High trust in one another, and yourself is critical.

When you’re feeling uncertain and find it hard to articulate what you bring to a team, any encroachment on “your” turf (call it scope) will likely engender a worry that you’re unnecessary. That others are “taking over” – and in turn, this can mean you search for faults in what other team members do because this helps affirm your rights and your specialness. You might want to rigidly control who does what in a team. It boosts your sense of worth but at the expense of other team members, and more importantly, at the expense of the person the team is trying to help.

The thing is, the person with pain does not care which person in a team works with them. What they care about is that the clinician is knowledgeable, and empathic. Trustworthy. The quality of the interpersonal relationship accounted for 54.5% reduction in pain in one study by Fuentes (Fuentes et al., 2014). People with pain want to know that their individual needs have been taken into account in their treatment plan (Kinney et al., 2020).

If you’re finding it hard to work in a team, perhaps feeling vulnerable about your worth, try this:

Ask your team to meet for an hour, tops.

Ask each member of your team to say what they bring to the team – not just their profession, but what else? Consider age, humour, cultural background, additional courses, personal interests outside of work, the “social secretary”, the “librarian”…and professional skills.

Pool all of these contributions on a big piece of paper – use post-it notes of different colours for each person.

Group similar contributions together in the middle of the paper – and spread unique contributions around the outside.

Review the paper and ask each participant to add any contributions they’ve just been reminded of.

Take a good look at the common contributions and the unique ones: these are what make up your team and they’re there to use for better person-centred care.

You can add some reflective questions to this activity.

  • What are the areas of overlap? It could be goal-setting, offering information about pain, movement practices, addressing fear of pain/reinjury, helping build confidence…
  • What areas of uniqueness are there? These could be hypnosis, knowledge translation from clinic to daily life, exercise prescription, the ability to write a prescription for medications
  • What surprised you? This could be the degree of overlap, or the contribution you didn’t expect from someone, or perhaps a gap in the team’s knowledge or skills
  • What shows up in yourself as you review these contributions? These could be “yeah, right, I don’t believe you can do THAT!” or “but I can do that too!”

Handling your response to what shows up to that last question is where the enormous value of this activity lies. Remember, the team is there for the person with pain, not for you as clinicians. If you think someone is claiming a contribution you can do with more skill, this only means that you can offer that person help from time to time. If you think that you’d like to contribute in an area and you didn’t add that as one of your contributions, now is the time to put it on the paper.

Take a copy of that piece of paper, and keep it close to you.

Your mission from then on, should you choose to accept it, is to review this set of contributions when you are next developing a treatment plan for a person seeking your help. Choose the combination of clinicians that offers the range of skills and knowledge, the interpersonal skills suited, and the availability of each clinician so that the person you hope to help will be seen by a team, and not just a set of individual clinicians. Oh and add in a good case formulation as well…

Remember: it’s all about the person in person-centred pain management and rehabilitation.

Fuentes J, Armijo-Olivo S, Funabashi M, Miciak M, Dick B, Warren S, Rashiq S, Magee DJ, Gross DP. (2014). Enhanced therapeutic alliance modulates pain intensity and muscle pain sensitivity in patients with chronic low back pain: An experimental controlled study. Physical Therapy. 94:477–89.

Kinney, M., Seider, J., Beaty, A. F., Coughlin, K., Dyal, M., & Clewley, D. (2020, Aug). The impact of therapeutic alliance in physical therapy for chronic musculoskeletal pain: A systematic review of the literature. Physiotherapy Theory and Practice, 36(8), 886-898.

Körner, M. (2010). Interprofessional teamwork in medical rehabilitation: a comparison of multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary team approach. Clinical Rehabilitation, 24(8), 745-755.

Oslund, S., Robinson, R. C., Clark, T. C., Garofalo, J. P., Behnk, P., Walker, B., Walker, K. E., Gatchel, R. J., Mahaney, M., & Noe, C. E. (2009). Long-term effectiveness of a comprehensive pain management program: strengthening the case for interdisciplinary care. Baylor University Medical Center Proceedings, 22(3), 211-214.

Ruan, X., & Kaye, A. D. (2016). A Call for Saving Interdisciplinary Pain Management. Journal of Orthopaedic and Sports Physical Therapy, 46(12), 1021-1023.

Wampold, B. E. (2018). The Therapeutic Value of the Relationship for Placebo Effects and Other Healing Practices. International Review of Neurobiology, 139, 191-210.

Zajac, S., Woods, A., Tannenbaum, S., Salas, E., & Holladay, C. L. (2021). Overcoming Challenges to Teamwork in Healthcare: A Team Effectiveness Framework and Evidence-Based Guidance. Frontiers in Communication, 6(6).

Making first contact: what to do with all that information! Part 3

In my last post I described the “4 P” model (sometimes called the 5P!) of formulation for pain. In today’s post I want to talk about an integrated approach for a team.

Teamwork in pain management is an enormous thing – IASP (International Association for the Study of Pain) endorses multidisciplinary (I prefer interprofessional) teamwork but gives little information on how teams best work together. In fact, research exploring teamwork processes in pain management is remarkably absent, even though there’s considerable research elsewhere in healthcare showing that effective teamwork is quite distinct from being an effective solo clinician. The processes of coming together, learning about one another and what each person and profession contributes, learning how to make decisions, how to negotiate differences of opinion, to trust one another: all of these have been explored in other health settings, but not in pain management ones. This matters because of all the areas in healthcare, pain management presents us with the most complex inter-related problems where the model of pain adopted by a team must be consistent or the person with pain will likely feel utterly confused.

’nuff said. Let’s take a look at a team mental model of pain, because this is where learning from one another and across professions becomes “live”.

The basic assumption for the whole team must be that pain is a multifactorial experience, influenced by (broadly) biological, psychological and social elements. In other words, a team won’t work well if some of the members think that pain can be “fixed” by addressing only one piece of the puzzle. Even in acute pain, the team needs to recognise that what a person believes is going on, the meaning they draw from the experience, the influence of others (the family, hospital staff, community) will make a difference to the person’s distress and disability. Context always matters and people always bring their previous experiences (either personal or drawing from what they’ve seen/heard from others, including media) with them when they’re in pain.

If the team takes this idea on board, then the weight that’s placed on the various factors contributing to distress and disability should be equal, at least initially. For example, although anxiety might be a key influence in one person’s pain experience, this shouldn’t be valued above possible biological factors. Each contributing factor needs to earn its way into the overall formulation, and it’s only from reviewing the formulation as a whole that it’s possible to determine where to begin with treatment.

This sounds complicated – and it can be in some cases! But it is really a mindset rather than being horribly complex. If we hold each piece of the puzzle lightly, look to the relationships between each piece, then we can begin to see how one factor influences another. And teams can, if they share their ideas, put the pieces together much more effectively than any single person can – even the person with pain.

Yes, the person with pain IS part of the team – always. How else will the team know they’ve been effective?

Teams form a mental model of what each other knows, what the team (as a whole) thinks matters, and who in the team might offer the mix of skills the person needs. This mental model doesn’t happen instantly: you can’t put six clinicians in a room and an hour later expect them to have a common understanding of pain, each other, and what the team can do. There’s good research showing that teams need time together – even virtual teams (Maynard & Gilson, 2021) – and that frequently changing team members reduces the teams’ effectiveness (Bedwell, 2019; Williams & Potts, 2010). Mental models emerge as teams share knowledge – the problem is that group members often share knowledge that is common, rather than unique information that could be the linchpin to an effective decision (Levine, 2018).

In my experience, and reading through an enormous amount of research, the most commonly adopted model in persistent pain management is a cognitive behavioural approach. Now this is not “CBT” the therapy, but instead an approach that recognises:

People are active processors of information and not passive reactors.

Thoughts (e.g., appraisals, expectations, and beliefs) can elicit and influence mood, affect physiological processes, have social consequences, and also serve as an impetus for behavior; conversely, mood, physiology, environmental factors, and behavior can influence the nature and content of thought processes.

• Behaviour is reciprocally determined by both individual and environmental factors.

People can learn more adaptive ways of thinking, feeling, and behaving.

People should be active collaborators in changing their maladaptive thoughts, feelings, and behaviour. (Turk & Flor, 2013)

We might disagree on how these points might be operationalised, and treated, but a team should have something like this as a critical understanding of how the factors influencing a person’s distress and disability might fit together.

I’ve written plenty of times about the formulation approach that I’ve often used – here and here – and I’ll show you another ACT-based formulation next week. In the meantime, perhaps it’s time to consider how well you and your team know one another, and consider whether you have enough trust in one another to debate issues (not people), bring unique information (rather than shared), and collaborate rather than compete?

Bedwell, W. L. (2019). Adaptive Team Performance: The Influence of Membership Fluidity on Shared Team Cognition. Frontiers of Psychology, 10, 2266.

Levine, J. M. (2018). Socially-shared cognition and consensus in small groups. Current Opinion in Psychology, 23, 52-56.

Maynard, M. T., & Gilson, L. L. (2021). Getting to know you: The importance of familiarity in virtual teams. Organizational Dynamics, 50(1).

Turk, D. C., & Flor, H. (2013). The Cognitive-Behavioral Approach to Pain Management. In S. B. McMahon, M. Koltzenburg, I. Tracey, & D. C. Turk (Eds.), Wall and Melzack’s Textbook of Pain (6 ed., pp. 592-602). Saunders.

Williams, A. C., & Potts, H. W. (2010). Group membership and staff turnover affect outcomes in group CBT for persistent pain. Pain, 148(3), 481-486.

Knowledge gaps for working together

Whenever we work with someone living with pain, we form a team. A team, by definition, is “a distinguishable set of two or more people who interact dynamically, interdependently, and adaptively towards a common and valued goal/objective/mission” (Salas et al., 1992). So while many clinicians work outside an interprofessional team, they are always working in a team consisting of at least the person with pain, and themselves.

There’s a good deal of research on teamwork, and a heap of references in pain management literature on the benefits and, indeed, the need, to work in a team for best outcomes (both in terms of effects for the person and in terms of cost-effectiveness). Gilliam and colleagues (2018) demonstrate that long-term outcomes are retained by participants attending an interdisciplinary pain rehabilitation programme, while Guildford and colleaguees (2018) also showed reductions in analgesic use during an interdisciplinary pain management programme. It’s not new news folks!

Teamwork is well-investigated in health, particularly interprofessional/interdisciplinary teamwork. Much of this research, however, is focused on nursing and medicine interactions, with rather less attention paid to allied health and nursing/medicine teamwork. This matters because while nursing and medicine are moving away from the old medical model, the professions probably represent the two most similar in terms of clinical models. And this matters because one thing that’s found to be important for good teamwork in health is having a shared mental model (for example – from operation room – Wilson, 2019).

All good so far – nothing new here, move along, right?

Hold it right there, folks.

You see, when we work together in a team, particularly for people with persistent pain, we often generate a heap of new information about the person we hope to help. In New Zealand, the person will have completed the ePPOC set of questionnaires, then there will probably have been some physical performance testing, maybe some basic ROM, and muscle testing, perhaps some daily life functioning tasks, certainly some more psychological questionnaires, if the person sees a medical practitioner, there will be the obligatory bloods, urine, perhaps imaging – you know what I mean! A heap of information that each clinician deems necessary and I haven’t yet gone into each clinician’s desire to “hear the story from the beginning again!”

What’s lacking in our research on teamwork in persistent pain is discussion about how we assemble this information so that we move from a multidisciplinary team – Multidisciplinary teams involve people from different health disciplines working alongside one another while using clinical models drawn from their own professional discipline (Körner, 2010) – to an interprofessional/interdisciplinary team – Interdisciplinary teams also involve people from different health disciplines working alongside one another but meet regularly to collaborate on treatment goals and priorities (Ruan & Kaye, 2016). There is limited hierarchy and considerable communication, cooperation and often overlap between team members (Körner, 2010).

Not only a lack of a shared mental model (because we all think our model is The Best), we also lack an understanding of team processes. How do we develop an effective way to communicate, to cooperate, to deal with conflict in an open and creative way, to coordinate our work so things happen at the right time, to be coached so that the team-as-a-whole moves in the same direction and new people coming to the team feel part of the culture? Not forgetting that teams work in an ever-changing context, and team membership changes over time, while the overall team culture is something that emerges from a team collective (Salas, et al., 2015).

Are pain rehabilitation teams different from teams working in older person’s health, or palliative care, or as part of a primary health team?

I suspect so, but I can’t find good research detailing how our pain teams are different. It’s like a black box of mystery (a bit like interprofessional pain management programmes – one murky black box out of which a person pops!)

I’m left with this feeling that because teams in pain management and rehabilitation have become scarce in most part of the US, and that this is where all the research funding lives, there’s not very much that we actually know. We don’t know who holds the positions of power – is it the medical practitioner? the psychologist? the physiotherapist? the occupational therapist? Who makes the call as to when it’s time to work with the person to move from pain reduction to living well alongside pain? Are the team members actually using a common model or are they really working in parallel? And how can a team be maintained over time – I’ve had the privilege of working in a very close-knit and effective team for some years, but I’ve seen that team become smaller, fragmented, more multidisciplinary than interprofessional, with limited attention to processes of induction, developing effective conflict management, and really becoming weakened.

There is one conclusion I can draw from the mountains of material I’ve been learning and it’s this: it’s impossible to put a bunch of clinicians together and call them a team without putting effort in to develop those processes I’ve listed above. And when was the last time you attended a CPD session on “how to work in a team?”

Gilliam, W. P., Craner, J. R., Cunningham, J. L., Evans, M. M., Luedtke, C. A., Morrison, E. J., Sperry, J. A., & Loukianova, L. L. (2018). Longitudinal Treatment Outcomes for an Interdisciplinary Pain Rehabilitation Program: Comparisons of Subjective and Objective Outcomes on the Basis of Opioid Use Status. J Pain, 19(6), 678-689.

Guildford, B. J., Daly-Eichenhardt, A., Hill, B., Sanderson, K., & McCracken, L. M. (2018). Analgesic reduction during an interdisciplinary pain management programme: treatment effects and processes of change. Br J Pain, 12(2), 72-86.

Körner, M. (2010). Interprofessional teamwork in medical rehabilitation: a comparison of multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary team approach. Clinical Rehabilitation, 24(8), 745-755.

Ruan, X., & Kaye, A. D. (2016). A Call for Saving Interdisciplinary Pain Management. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther, 46(12), 1021-1023.

Salas, E., Dickinson, T. L., Converse, S. A., & Tannenbaum, S. I. (1992). Toward an understanding of team performance and training. In Teams: Their training and performance. (pp. 3-29). Ablex Publishing.

Salas, E., Shuffler, M. L., Thayer, A. L., Bedwell, W. L., & Lazzara, E. H. (2015). Understanding and Improving Teamwork in Organizations: A Scientifically Based Practical Guide. Human Resource Management, 54(4), 599-622.

Wilson, A. (2019). Creating and applying shared mental models in the operating room. Journal of Perioperative Nursing, 32(3), 33.

Interdisciplinary? Or serial monotherapy?

Teamwork can be a mixed blessing. Knowing that other members of the team are working alongside you is wonderful but a team that’s not functioning well can be a destructive animal that can tear itself apart.

I’ll begin with some definitions:

Monotherapy means having a single type of intervention. This is useful for acute problems, or very simple problems. For example, if I sprain my ankle, I might need to see a physiotherapist to improve my mobility. In New Zealand, the ACC-funded Psychological Pain Management sessions are a good example.

Multidisciplinary means more than one discipline working with an individual, but not necessarily working with one another. This is useful where coordination is difficult, such as in a busy Emergency Department, or where the problem doesn’t need collaboration, for example possible neuropathic pain post-deQuervains release where the patient needs physiotherapy, medication and help to return to work. In New Zealand, a good number of the ACC-funded Activity Focused Programmes run this way.

There may be a physiotherapist, occupational therapist and psychologist working with the same patient, and although they may share notes their interventions remain focused on their individual disciplinary contributions. The way the disciplines conceptualise the patient’s problems remains within the individual professional’s model. So the physiotherapist might focus on biomechanics and strength, the occupational therapist may consider how the individual manages his or her driving and work tasks, while the psychologist may consider the person’s thoughts and beliefs about pain. Although the disciplines acknowledge one another’s contribution, clinicians focus on their own intervention and clinical reasoning with little reference in their own sessions to anything another clinician has looked at.

Interdisciplinary means professionals from a variety of disciplines working together in an integrated way with joint goals and ongoing communication. A common model is used, joint goals developed, clinicians contribute in the area/s most needed by the patient/client, share session content and communicate regularly so other team members can provide the same message in their sessions. This might mean the physiotherapist uses cognitive reframing during exercises, the occupational therapist discusses medications and side-effects during activity planning sessions, the psychologist talks about exercise timing and intensity during a session using biofeedback.

The popularity of interdisciplinary pain management has waned somewhat since the days of the mid-1980’s to late 1990’s. Health administrators look askance at large teams because they seem expensive, time is tied up in meetings, there are turf wars, people talk about role conflict and role confusion, time is needed for induction, and there’s always a suspicion that having a team leads to over-servicing and too many cooks spoiling the broth. I’ve watched the integrated interdisciplinary approach gradually being replaced by a multidisciplinary approach, although the language may not have caught up with this!

Teams are a complex beast. To understand teams we need to draw on cognitive psychology, social psychology, rehabilitation research, general systems theory and, dare I say it, management theory.  Not only do clinicians in an interdisciplinary team need to know their profession’s contributions, they must also communicate effectively as individuals, have learned how to collaborate, and the team must be supported in a structural way to do its job well.

What does this mean in practical terms?

There must be effective selection and induction process for new team members – members need to be chosen for teams on the basis not only of their proficiency in their individual discipline, but also on what they can contribute individually to a team. Personally I don’t think a decision to appoint an individual to a team should occur without the team being involved in the selection process.  Induction needs to involve not only where the first aid kit is, but more importantly, the team’s philosophy and clinical model, sharing what each individual member can contribute to the team – especially when a new member is appointed, how decisions are made, how disputes are resolved, and the team’s values.

Time must be set aside for team development and that hackneyed term “team building”. This is an ongoing need – because trusting one another is critical to effective teamwork. This means learning about other clinician’s contributions – enough to be able to provide the same kind of input within your own clinical session, so a consistent message reaches the patient.

Communication must be pretty robust at times! What I mean by this is that it’s vital to be able to disagree, challenge one another’s viewpoint and take the time to reach alignment, if not agreement. A team that can’t or won’t openly disagree with one another is likely to hold onto disputes, souring the relationships and creating distrust. Over time, the team’s effectiveness is lost as patients/clients can tell where the weakest links lie.

Develop a structure for presenting information
–Optimum amount of information – 3-7 from each person
–Most likely to be forgotten – presented first
–Lowest prestige – presented early
–Share unique information rather than shared
–Use a timer to limit discussion – egg timer?
–Consider using delphi, or other structured decision process (nominal group technique, SWOT, decisional balance, cognitive mapping)
Identify functional roles as well as clinical roles in a team, support these roles – this means some people are the “organisers” in the team, some are the “comforters”, some are “rule makers”, some are “enforcers”. These interpersonal roles are as important as clinical roles because they facilitate team functioning. And the professions traditionally expected to “lead” or “organise” may not be the best individuals to do so in a particular team.
Develop a process for resolving differences – this might mean sitting and thrashing a problem out in discussion, or it might mean bringing another person in to mediate/arbitrate, or it could mean giving a decision-making role to one individual within the team, though this can mean developing a hierarchy and this is less positive within an interdisciplinary team.
Managers must recognise that interdisciplinary teams need time to learn to work together, that teams are less effective when team membership changes, that members of teams often know what they need and who they need as members and that external managers or even clinicians working outside a team may have little knowledge either of how the team works, or of what the team needs to be effective.
Are interdisciplinary teams effective?
This is a slightly difficult question to answer, but overall the indications are that interdisciplinary teams are effective in terms of patient outcomes, and they are also better for the individuals involved in them. This report, somewhat old now but still relevant, found that IDTs are better for mental health of members and there is lower staff turnover.  This report, from 2013, finds that the data are not yet clear about cost effectiveness.
What seems evident is that the more complex a patient’s problems, and the more chronic, the greater the need for interdisciplinary teams, and the more cost effective the outcomes.
Human Resources for Health provides this summary – 10 Principles of Good Interdisciplinary Team Work
I love working in a team. I love being able to trust the other members of the team to provide seamless integration of the things I contribute, and I love being able to support the other clinicians in their approach. I know it’s not easy to develop good teamwork, but there’s enough information available from research to know what can help. What I definitely know is that defining what one profession will do without also considering both the other professional’s contribution AND the personal strengths and vulnerabilities of the individuals involved is likely to lead to subversive behaviour, dissention and ultimately failure for the person at the centre of it: the client/patient.

Friday Funnies!

Oh yes, it’s back again – Friday Funnies, and more opportunities for me to ‘treat’ you to my warped humour.  My apologies in advance.

First up, a quick quiz…

Can you cry under water?

How important does a person have to be before they are considered assassinated instead of just murdered?

Why does a round pizza come in a square box?

How is it that we put man on the moon before we figured out it would be a good idea to put wheels on luggage?

Why is it that people say they ‘slept like a baby’ when babies wake up like every two hours?

Why is ‘bra’ singular and ‘panties’ plural?

Why do toasters always have a setting that burns the toast to a horrible crisp, which no decent human being would eat?

Why, when you blow in a dog’s face, he gets mad at you, but when you take him for a car ride, he sticks his head out the window?

Our manager is keen to help us develop teamwork – perhaps this would work?

The loaded mini-van pulled in to the only remaining campsite. Four children leaped from the vehicle and began feverishly unloading gear and setting up the tent. The boys rushed to gather firewood, while the girls and their mother set up the camp stove and cooking utensils.

A nearby camper marveled to the youngsters’ father, “That, sir, is some display of teamwork.”

The father replied, “I have a system. No one goes to the bathroom until the camp is set up.”

Oh, I forgot – that’s why meetings are so long.  (on a more serious note: this is a good, albeit simplistic, paper on teamwork in health settings)

’nuff for today, except to leave you with something from my travels in Molesworth Station.

It’s hard work researching teamwork
After writing about teams and models and the distinct possibility of talking past each other, I had a very quick search for a paper on teamwork and models this morning, and came across this one by a group of Canadian researchers. It is, like many of these pieces of research into the messy and complex area of decision-making and teams, a qualitative piece of work. It examines process and identifies underlying values within a team.

Values are interesting things – they’re the often unspoken ‘things we think are important’, and possibly represent the very things that we both share in common with each other – and at the same time, can be the very things that underlie our major differences of opinion with each other too.

In this study by Loisel, Falardeau, Baril, José-Durand, Langley, Sauvé, & Gervais, (hereafter ‘the authors’), they observed a single team discussing the cases of 22 workers off work due to musculoskeletal pain.  They painstakingly transcribed then analysed the discussions (338 meetings, 75 hours of discussion transcribed!)…

The team consisted of : general practitioner, occupational therapist, kinesiologist, psychologist, ergonomist, and team coordinator.  They held weekly team meetings to decide on progress, messages to give to employer and participant (an investment in meetings that I don’t see happening on a regular basis in many pain management settings today).

Data analysis is modelled after Glaser & Strauss, although thankfully they acknowledge they are not using grounded theory – instead, they coded, wrote memo’s, created flowcharts and looked for similarities and differences between each coded category until they came up with explanatory hypotheses that cohered to form a theoretical explanation for how the teams worked.  For a full description of the types of grounded theory (so you can see how this study differed from a methodologically sound grounded theory) you can go to here and here.

The findings identified ‘ten common values and were shown as supporting the team’s decisionmaking process during case management. They repeatedly appeared during interdisciplinary team meetings and were reinforced by team leaders.’ The researchers thought they fell into four main groups: (1) team-related values, (2) stakeholder-related values, (3) worker-related values, and (4) general values influencing the intervention.

Team-related values

Team unity and credibility – this reflected the approach of the team to both arrive at consensus, and then act in consensus so that there were no ‘gaps’ or opportunities for the participant or employer to split the team.

Stakeholder-related values

Collaboration with stakeholders – this represented coordination of care, and the team worked hard to bring participants alongside with the team’s view, so that the person returning to work had consistency of management.

Worker values

Worker’s internal motivation – the team worked hard to strengthen the worker’s internal motivation, so the worker was encouraged to be autonomous and assertive.

Worker’s adherence to the program – the team worked hard to ensure the person returning to work followed the team’s recommendations, seeing this as vital to the success of the programme.  The authors found that it seemed important that the worker and the team were ‘thinking in the same way’, that they became ‘allies’.

Worker’s reactivation – being active = good, being inactive = bad.  All workers were thought to be able to return to work irrespective of their diagnosis.

Delivering a single message – unity and consensus seemed critical to ensure everyone heard the same message and the aim of the programme was achieved.


Worker’s reassurance – that the person was doing no harm to themselves, that they would ‘make it’, and that the team was supporting them.

Stakeholders’ reassurance – to ensure the stakeholders felt comfortable with accepting someone back to work even if they weren’t at full physical capacity.

General values

Interventions should be graded – because workers had been off work for some time, the team agreed that they should be gradually reintroduced to the workplace.

Pain is multidimensional and must be actively controlled – both physical and psychosocial factors were actively addressed throughout the programme, including ensuring the participant knew about the multidimensional nature of pain.

Work is therapeutic – the team supported the idea that being back at work is good in itself.


For me, this study illustrates that even if a team hasn’t clearly or explicitly discussed underlying values or models, they hold them.  It’s probably (and I’m hypothesising here) a more effective team that is open amongst the members about the values or model they have, so that differences of opinion can be openly aired, and especially given that at least in this team, being united was thought to be so important.

I’ve recorded and tracked the discussion patterns across team members, and also looked at roles participants play within a team, but I’ve never examined the underlying values. 

I think it’s an interesting approach to how living teams function, and it begs the question: how long does a team need to be together to cohere values?  What is the effect of introducing a new person to a team? How does a team work to integrate or exclude values brought in by new team members that don’t align with the rest of the team?

It also brings into question the process of selecting a new team participant – maybe it’s much less about what the person knows, and much more about how comfortable that new team member is with the ‘way we do things around here’, or the values and culture of teamwork.

Loisel, P., Falardeau, M., Baril, R., José-Durand, M., Langley, A., Sauvé, S., & Gervais, J. (2005). The values underlying team decision-making in work rehabilitation for musculoskeletal disorders Disability & Rehabilitation, 27 (10), 561-569 DOI: 10.1080/09638280400018502

The complexities of interdisciplinary teams
Pain management, especially chronic pain management, is characterised by using an interdisciplinary approach rather than a multidisciplinary one. Distinguishing between the two can be a case of splitting hairs at times, but the fundamental difference is that in multidisciplinary teams, treatment is carried out by different team members who may work with the patient concurrently, but not necessarily using the same underlying model or framework for treatment. In an interdisciplinary team, treatment is carried out by different team members using a common model to address common goals – working collaboratively and in close communication with each other.

Interdisciplinary teams take time to develop. The members of the team learn more about each other’s professional roles the longer they work together. They become familiar with, and trust each other to support the common messages such as ‘don’t use pain as your guide’, or ‘do no less on a bad day, do no more on a good day’. Interdisciplinary teams rely on each other to help the person with pain move forward towards the life they want to live.  To become effective, interdisciplinary team members need to learn to trust each others practice, to have confidence in their own practice, and to develop a common language and approach to clinical situations they encounter.

The problem with these teams is that much of the ‘work’ of a team occurs during meetings, and meetings of groups of health professionals look costly. Five or more therapists sitting together for a couple of hours seems to be an inordinate waste of productivity when you think of the number of patients they could be seeing during that time! Not only that, but developing effective team processes including good induction and dispute resolution also takes time. And it’s invisible input with little visible output. No wonder managers think teams like this could surely be done differently.

The research on effectiveness of interdisciplinary pain management continues to support this model, despite erosion of it in some countries (notably North America). I’m not going to review the literature here, but a couple of good references (and yes, these are old ones, but still relevant) are Turk and Okifuji (1998), and Okifuji, Turk & Kalauokalani (1999), and of course, Main and Spanswick who wrote the book Pain Management: An interdisciplinary approach (2000). A more recent edition of this book has been published, further extending the application of the biopsychosocial model in pain management.

When we’re trying to identify what constitutes an effective interdisciplinary team so we can perhaps develop it more quickly, or refine it, the elements that make up a good team become incredibly complex.  The individuals themselves, the communication style, the procedures that structure their work, the roles people play within the team – all of these elements need to be understood to work out how a good team becomes more than the sum of its parts.

Humphrey, Morgeson and Mannor (2009) produced a paper outlining a theory that considers not just the individuals and the roles they play within a team, but also the composition of the roles.  Recognising that not all roles are made equal, in this paper they look at what they call ‘strategic roles’ – those roles that either encounter more problems, or are more involved in critical activities, or are in a central position in the workflow of a team.  This definition describes strategic roles according to the structure of a team rather than the performance of a team.

They then looked at a number of teams (OK, they used sports teams, but the model can apply to health teams too), and identified that it is not the individuals within a team, but the roles they fulfil in a team that make a difference to the effectiveness of a team.  Some roles are more important to the outcome than others.  They then suggest that by investing more heavily in the ‘core roles’ of a team, overall performance increases – this investment could be in terms of resources available for the people fulfilling these roles, or rewards for those individuals in this role, or time available to the people fulfilling those core roles.

Another facet to this study looked at the place of experience and skill on team performance – it matters who has experience depending on the roles that person fulfils.  This suggests that investing time, training and possibly even monetary reward for those people who fulfil important or core roles could pay dividends in terms of output or outcome of the entire team.

Interdisciplinary teams are complex beasts.  While most of us work within some sort of team, many of us don’t know what our contribution actually does within the team.  And most of us haven’t been trained in how to work effectively in teams – after all, our training has been primarily to develop our individual professional skills, rather than to recognise the strengths of a collective.  Perhaps this is an area for us to explore in more detail – and maybe managers can learn from research such as Humphrey, Morgenson & Mannor’s team roles theory, and look at how to resource team members to enhance their work.

If you’ve enjoyed this post, and want to read more, you can subscribe using the RSS feed link above.  Or you can bookmark and come back again! I post most days during the week (look out for Friday Funnies!), and love comments.  Drop me a line if you want to introduce yourself, or just leave a comment and I’ll be sure to reply.

Humphrey, S., Morgeson, F., & Mannor, M. (2009). Developing a theory of the strategic core of teams: A role composition model of team performance. Journal of Applied Psychology, 94 (1), 48-61 DOI: 10.1037/a0012997

Okifuji AA, Turk DC, Kalauokalani D. Clinical outcomes and economic evaluation of the Multidisciplinary Pain Centers. In: Block A, Kremer EE, Fernandez E, editors. Handbook of Pain Syndromes. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Publishers; 1999. pp. 77–97.

Turk DC, Okifuji A. Treatment of chronic pain patients: clinical outcomes, cost-effectiveness, and cost-benefits of multidisciplinary pain centers. Critical Reviews in Physical and Rehabilitation Medicine. 1998;10:181–208.

Pre-Christmas gratitude – 5 things I’m grateful for

In these couple of days before Christmas, it’s traditional to review some of the ‘best of’ 2008. It’s been just over a year since I started this blog, and the topic list and readership has grown a whole lot!

What am I grateful for in 2008?

  1. Teamwork – the people I work with are fantastic. You can’t work alone in pain management IMHO,  a team of like-minded people to support you both professionally and personally just can’t be beaten.  I take my hat off to the team at Burwood Pain Management Centre who keep me honest, deflate my ego (gently), cushion my falls, keep me standing and give me inspiration to keep on caring about what I do.
  2. Motivation – using motivational approaches like motivational interviewing to help people make their own choices rather than remaining ambivalent.  Whatever the choice, it’s easier to make changes once you’re moving than remain stuck.  I’m grateful for the sense of freedom that using motivational approaches has given me, and that I’ve been able to apply it in my work.  Now if only it could work with my kids?!
  3. The magic of the interweb – and so many dedicated bloggers. I find it unbelievable that there are so many people who spend time writing intelligent, interesting, provoking and inspiring posts on topics dear to my heart – and it’s all free (provided you can get on the internet).  There are so many topics to choose from, and the quality can be stunning.  I’m not a ‘Web 2.0’ kind of person, and I’m not about to rave about the wonders of interactivity, I’m simply awed at how many people spend time putting up resources so the rest of us can find them. (more…)

Why work in pain management?

I’m curious about why we work in pain management…  My reasons are that it’s one of the most complex areas in health, it uses a wide range of skills, every person I work with has a different set of concerns and coping strategies, and I do enjoy working with people of working age who communicate readily about their problems.

Although chronic pain management is very demanding on clinicians, it’s also rewarding as people develop ways of achieving fulfilment in their lives.  There is never a feeling of ‘same old, same old’ because every person is so very different.  And although sometimes the process takes a long time, the momentum is always forward and onward.

I also really appreciate the team approach – and I simply can’t say too many grateful thanks to the team I work with – fabulous people who are not only sensitive and caring with patients, they are also supportive and enthusiastic and are there for each other.

Why do you work in the field? What keeps you working in it?  Comments are always welcome!

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