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Physiotherapists’ perceptions of collaborations with inter-professional team members in an ICU setting

M N Ntinga
H van Aswegen


Background. In the intensive care unit (ICU) environment, inter-professional team collaborations have direct impact on patient care outcomes. Current evidence shows that providing physiotherapy to ICU patients shortens their length of stay and reduces their incidence of ventilator associated pneumonia and severity of critical illness neuropathy. Physiotherapists’ perceptions of their interactions with nurses and doctors as inter-professional team members in the ICU is important.
Objectives. To identify barriers and enablers of physiotherapists’ interactions with inter-professional team members in adult ICU settings, identify solutions to the barriers and determine if perceptions of interactions with ICU team members differ between junior and senior physiotherapists.
Methods. A qualitative study was done using semi-structured group discussions. Participants were recruited using convenience sampling. Participants were junior and senior physiotherapists from four private and four public sector hospitals in urban Johannesburg, South Africa. Interviews were audio recorded. Recordings were transcribed and direct content analysis of data was done to create categories, subcategories and themes.
Results. Twenty-two junior and 17 senior ICU physiotherapists participated in the study. Barriers raised by physiotherapists regarding communication with inter-professional team members in the ICU were non-ICU trained staff working in ICU, personality types, lack of professional etiquette, and frequent rotation of ICU staff. Enablers of communication with inter-professional team members were presence of team members in ICU during the day, good time management, teamwork approach to care and sharing of knowledge. Differing paradigms of teamwork among health professionals was highlighted as a cause of tension in the ICU inter-professional collaborations.
Conclusion. Physiotherapists are important members of the inter-professional ICU team. Exploring their interactions with other team members identified solutions that may improve collaboration between inter-professional team members to facilitate improved patient outcomes. Inter-professional education should inform ICU policies to create an environment that fosters teamwork. Finding creative ways to adequately staff the ICU without losing quality or driving up costs of care are matters that should take priority among policy makers.