Understanding the distinct experience of rural interprofessional collaboration in developing palliative care programs
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INTRODUCTION: Palliative care is one component of rural generalist practice that requires interprofessional collaboration (IPC) amongst practitioners. Previous research on developing rural palliative care has created a four-phase capacity development model that included interprofessional rural palliative care teams; however, the details of rural team dynamics had not been previously explored and defined. A growing body of literature has produced models for interprofessional collaborative practice and identified core competencies required by professionals to work within these contexts. An Ontario College of Family Physicians discussion paper identifies seven essential elements for successful IPC: responsibility and accountability, coordination, communication, cooperation, assertiveness, autonomy, and mutual trust and respect. Despite the fact that IPC may be well conceptualized in the literature, evidence to support the transferability of these elements into rural health care practice or rural palliative care practice is lacking. The purpose of this research is to bridge the knowledge gap that exists with respect to rural IPC, particularly in the context of developing rural palliative care. It examines the working operations of these teams and highlights the elements that are important to rural collaborative processes. METHODS: For the purpose of this qualitative study, naturalistic and ethnographic research strategies were employed to understand the experience of rural IPC in the context of rural palliative care team development. Purposive sampling was used to recruit key informants as participants who were members of rural palliative care teams. The seven elements of interprofessional collaboration, as outline above, provided a preliminary analytic framework to begin exploring the data. Analysis progressed using a process of interpretive description to embrace new ideas and conceptualizations that emerged from the patterns and themes of the rural health providers' narratives. The questions of particular interest that guided this work were: What are the collaborative processes of a rural palliative care team? To what extent are the seven elements of IPC representative of rural teams' experiences? Are there any additional elements present when examining the experiences of rural teams? RESULTS: The analysis showed that the seven identified elements of IPC were very much integrated in rural teams' collaborative practice, and thus validated the applicability of these elements in a rural context. However, all seven elements were implemented with a rural twist: the distinctiveness of the rural environment was observed in each element. In addition, another element, specific to rural context, was observed, that being the 'automatic teams' of rural practitioners - the collaboration has been established informally and almost automatically between rural practitioners. CONCLUSIONS: This research contributes new knowledge about rural palliative care team work that can assist in implementing models for rural palliative care that apply accepted elements of collaborative practice in the rural context. Understanding the process of how rural teams form and continue to function will help further the current understanding of IPC in the context in which these professionals work.
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