The teamwork literature consists of a wide array of terms, used interchangeably, to describe this phenomenon—from interdisciplinary, to multidisciplinary, to interprofessional. In addition to this terminologic uncertainty, different authors describing “interdisciplinary teamwork” often employ very differing conceptualizations related to team composition, function, and outcome. It is possible, however, to distinguish the different types of teamwork as follows: “interprofessional teamwork” involves different health care professionals who share a team identity, have clarity of roles, work in an interdependent and integrated fashion, and have a shared responsibility to solve problems and deliver services. This contrasts to “interdisciplinary teamwork,” which is seen as a collaborative activity undertaken by individuals from different disciplines, such as psychology, anthropology, economics, medicine, political science, and computer science. This, in turn, contrasts with “multidisciplinary teamwork,” which is regarded as an approach like interprofessional teamwork, but different in that the team members come from different academic disciplines (psychology, sociology, mathematics) rather than from different professions, such as medicine, nursing and social work. In health care, “multidisciplinary team” also refers to teams in which health professionals may share information regarding a patient, but do not formulate a treatment plan together. Although the term interdisciplinary teamwork has been prevalent for the past 30 years in U.S. medicine, including in geriatrics, scholars increasingly contend that applying this term in a health care setting is conceptually incorrect, as the notion of interprofessional teamwork more accurately describes the essence of health care teams (including geriatric teams) who work together to deliver services.
It is also important to distinguish interprofessional education, an increasingly common learning activity in health care, from interprofessional practice. “Interprofessional education” is an activity that occurs when members (or students/trainees) of 2 or more health care professions engage in learning with, from, and about each other to improve interprofessional teamwork and the delivery of care. Interprofessional practice centers on the provision of patient care and has a range of differing configurations. Interprofessional teamwork is a “tighter” more integrated type of work where members share a team identity and work in an integrated and interdependent manner to provide care to patients. Examples of interprofessional practice teams include geriatrics teams, intensive care teams and emergency room teams. This is a different arrangement to interprofessional collaboration which is a “looser” type of work, where membership is more fluid and shared membership less important. Examples of this type of work can be found in primary care and general medical settings.