What Is Interdisciplinary Health?

Wanda Marie Thibodeaux
Wanda Marie Thibodeaux
Woman holding a book
Woman holding a book

Interdisciplinary health refers to health care services provided by integrating knowledge or skills associated with two or more content areas. This is supposed to provide better overall results for the patient. Although this approach contrasts the traditional multidisciplinary approach of Western medicine, institutions are beginning to provide health care programs with interdisciplinary concepts and courses.

One major difference between interdisciplinary health and traditional health care is that medical personnel see the patient under a larger curative lens. They are concerned not only about the patient's physical well-being, but also how he is behaving, feeling and succeeding. The belief is that physical wellness is connected to many different facets, including factors that might initially seem unrelated to the patient's condition such as where he lives. Personnel must consider as many facets as possible to see what might be most beneficial. For example, interdisciplinary health might include both pharmacology and economic study so a person understands what medications are appropriate and how finances tie in to prescribing one drug over another.

Interdisciplinary health runs contrary to the traditional Western approach to medicine. In the traditional approach, although medical professionals recognize the connection between the mind and body, they largely are isolated in providing care. For instance, a surgeon concentrates on operating, not fixing diet or looking at the patient's home life. Much of this has to do with the skills involved in different concentration areas; it takes enormous amounts of time to become an expert in one field. Personnel tend to provide only their concentrated skills, referring patients to other experts as needed, so the approach is multidisciplinary, using more than one discipline but not integrating them all at once.

When health care personnel use interdisciplinary health, they form formal and informal teams from different content areas. Each member of the team supplements any weaknesses others in the group may have so that, collectively, the team has a wider view of the patient and possible causes of conditions and subsequent treatments. Although each member is still an expert in his particular area, the information provided by all team members means that everyone in the group has a basic understanding of the different ways of approaching the problem.

Approaching health in an interdisciplinary way is thought to decrease costs while improving both patient satisfaction and recovery. It also increases respect from one professional to another, because it is easier for team members to form networks and recognize the value of the knowledge within the different content areas. For these reasons, academic and healthcare institutions are starting to provide programs designed specifically with an interdisciplinary focus.

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