The SON received a $1.5 million award from the Health Resources and Services Administration—Division of Nursing to provide interprofessional collaborative practice training in the emergency departments of four rural North Carolina hospitals.

In the fast-paced environment of an emergency room, the opportunity for error is high. Decisions are made rapidly, and the quality of care a patient receives often depends on how well emergency care providers function as a team.

“In emergency rooms, it is essential that care is highly organized,” said Interim Dean and Professor Donna Havens, the primary investigator. Yet in a recent study of communication between nurses and other health professions, Dr. Havens and her colleagues found a significant number of nurses in emergency rooms reported less communication and collaboration between them and other health professionals. “If emergency personnel don’t feel they are collaborating or communicating well, that raises some red flags.”

Dr. Havens, PhD, RN, FAAN, and her colleagues plan to use the funding to implement a teamwork strategy called interprofessional collaborative practice. They’ll be working with teams of nurses, physicians and other providers from emergency departments in four partner hospitals, including Chatham Hospital, Pardee Hospital, Southeastern Regional Medical Center, and Transylvania Hospital. The teams will come together a few times a year to participate in discussions, role-playing exercises, simulations and other evidence-based activities designed to give them a sense of how they can learn from each other and their patients.

“Often, if providers haven’t examined those roles together, they don’t know what people in other roles are capable of contributing,” said Dr. Havens. “They don’t know what’s complementary, what’s duplicative or where challenges might arise. We plan to help them understand how their roles relate to each other and how they can fit together to meet their shared goal of providing excellent care.”

According to Dr. Havens, emergency departments in rural areas are often overcrowded because many people come in who have nowhere else to go for medical care. The high demand for services increases stress on staff, making it especially critical to have a team of emergency care providers who work well together. The four partner hospitals Dr. Havens and her team will be working with serve over 330,000 rural residents, and more than two-thirds live either in a health-provider shortage area or a medically underserved area of North Carolina.

“Previous projects have shown interdisciplinary collaborative practice leads to better coordinated care, which results in better health for people served by our partner hospitals,” said Dr. Havens. Her team will collect data over three years to determine if their most recent initiative leads to a better patient experience and improved communication between providers. “Our hope is by bringing these teams together and enabling them to build their capacity as a team, they will become self-organizing groups that flourish on their own as time passes to continue to deliver outstanding care to patients.”