The many faces of a health care team

Many types of professional workers, with knowledge in many fields, are called on to provide quality advice and care across the health system. 

By Dayna Hammond

When they talk about health care, people tend to refer to physicians and nurses as the care providers. However, another large sector of people are also involved in providing care across the continuum of health in disease or injury prevention, health promotion and recovery. “Allied health” is the term often used to refer to this group of professionals, but the term gives little information about this diverse and specialized part of the healthcare team.

From nutrition to x-rays

Allied health professionals specialize in a variety of disciplines, such as pharmacy, clinical nutrition services, spiritual care, social work, physiotherapy, occupational therapy, speech language pathology, respiratory therapy, diagnostic services (laboratory), and diagnostic imaging (x-rays, etc.).

The best practices of these health care professionals are grounded in evidence provided by research and continuous quality improvement.

All these specialty areas come together to form part of the healthcare team. According to the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority website, these practitioners make up roughly 10 to 15 per cent of the WRHA workforce and can be found in acute care, long-term care and community sectors.

Each allied health member of the multidisciplinary healthcare team may bring their expertise and specialized point of view to a specific case. For instance, a physiotherapist may assess a person’s mobility and ability to transfer and balance. An occupational therapist assesses activities of daily living including someone’s ability to wash and dress themselves and considers their home environment in planning.

A speech language pathologist may assess a person’s swallowing and determine whether he or she is able to eat safely. A pharmacist may assess medications to determine which ones would be most beneficial or whether any would counteract the others. One of the roles of a social worker is to be the key connect to support individuals who need to transition from their home to an alternate setting. A respiratory therapist may assess a person’s breathing and help to determine what his or her oxygen needs will be outside the hospital setting.

A medical lab technologist provides the lab results for a patient’s blood work or tissue specimen/biopsy to assist in diagnosis and treatment plans. Dietitians counsel and support clients to make changes in their eating habits aimed at promoting health and preventing chronic illness such as high blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease.

Help adjust home life

Allied health practitioners, whether based in a community or an acute care setting, recognize that it’s important to most people to be able to remain in their own home. These professionals work with the team, the individual and at times their family to help determine what support or physical changes are necessary for an individual to be able to go home or continue to live there, if such an arrangement is at all possible.

They connect with patients and families and take their individual needs into account. The more information they have about a patient, the better the care they can provide.

Each discipline undergoes different education and training. Along with doctors and nurses, they are all valuable members of the multidisciplinary team. Through care, compassion and team work, allied health members each bring unique expertise that can help ensure effective treatment and discharges from the hospital setting.

Health care professionals embrace the individual’s values and lifestyle and acknowledge the importance of autonomy and patient satisfaction. Health is the best possible integration of the personal, social, physical and spiritual components.

The entire multidisciplinary team works together to achieve a cohesive and integrated health care practice to respond to clients’ needs.

Dayna Hammond is manager of therapeutic services at Victoria General Hospital. To support patient care at the Vic, please contact Victoria General Hospital Foundation at 204- 477-3513 or online at http://www.thevicfoundation.ca.

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