What Is Collaborative Care?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Shereen Skola
  • Last Modified Date: 27 June 2019
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Collaborative care is an approach to medical treatment that considers the whole person, not just the immediate reason for seeking attention. It includes aspects of cooperation between patients and care teams, including self-advocacy for patients, to achieve better health outcomes. Some health care centers specifically promote collaborative care, and it can also be undertaken as an individual approach by specific providers. Patients can experience better quality of care and more satisfactory results under such systems.

In a collaborative environment, when a patient reports to a care provider with a problem, diagnosis and treatment includes a whole evaluation. If a patient complains of shortness of breath, for example, heart health, activity levels, and other factors may be examined. In addition, psychological factors might be considered. Perhaps a patient is gaining weight because of depression, for example, and this is creating cardiovascular strain which leads to shortness of breath. A patient might be stressed out at work, which exacerbates underlying asthma.


Part of collaborative care includes a high degree of communication between people who care for a patient. A nurse who performs an intake can meet with the doctor who examines the patient to note any observations, for example. The patient might make a casual comment like being stressed by a new baby that could provide an important clue for the doctor. Patients are also encouraged to advocate and actively participate in their own care. This can be especially important with behavioral health, where active patient involvement can increase the chances of a positive outcome.

Greater participation between care providers can increase the chances of catching a problem that might otherwise slip through the cracks. Collaborative care can be especially valuable for identifying psychological disorders. Many mental health conditions have an impact on physical health, and spotting that early can increase treatment options. A patient might show up for a routine physical examination with signs of scratching or picking that could be indicative of obsessive compulsive disorder, for example. By considering the whole patient, rather than specific physical issues, care providers can catch systemic problems.

Patients with an interest in collaborative care can seek out medical facilities where it is offered, or talk to their care providers about their treatment philosophy. One concern patients should be aware of is that this can require sharing confidential medical information with care providers in the same practice or members of a care team who work in different facilities. Patients who are uncomfortable with this idea may find other models of care more suitable.



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