Humpty Dumpty, Lewis Carroll’s egg-shaped character, said to Alice when she was through the looking glass that when he uses a word ‘it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less’. There are many words and phrases in health care whose meanings depend on context and have no single agreed definition.
Interprofessional is such a word. It is used by educators and some health professionals, but you are unlikely to hear it said by a patient or consumer. On its own it could refer to any type of profession but typically it describes two or more health professionals interacting in some way. It is an adjective, though ‘professional’ itself is also a noun. I would define myself as interprofessional but not as an interprofessional.
Frequently interprofessional is used as a synonym of multiprofessional, interdisciplinary, and multidisciplinary, even sometimes with trans as the prefix. The choice of ‘inter’ should convey the meaning of between, among, mutual and reciprocal, whereas multi simply relates to many. Therefore interprofessional should be used to describe certain types of working, where health professionals working together are equally and mutually respected, understood in terms of roles and responsibilities, and have agreed goals.
Not every team of one or more health professionals is an interprofessional team. Not every collaboration works interprofessionally. Not all learning activity that has two or more professions in one location is interprofessional education.
I choose that interprofessional should be a marker of quality. The word should imply a certain way of working, of learning and of providing quality health care. The Canadian Interprofessional Health Collaborative’s (CIHC) definition of interprofessional collaboration illustrates this point: The process of developing and maintaining effective interprofessional working relationships with learners, practitioners, patients, families and communities to enable optimal health outcomes
Pedantic – what do you think? I would be interested in comments – these can be added below.
Alice through the looking glass by Lewis Carroll – picture: Wikipedia Commons