Standing Out on the Multidisciplinary Team: 3 Questions for 2 RTs

Image of one doctor standing out in front of three other doctors

For centuries, medical care was delivered by physicians, with the assistance of nurses who aided them in providing the treatments patients needed to recover from their illnesses. That paradigm began to change in earnest in the last century when many other medical disciplines — including respiratory therapists — were created to take on the increasingly specialized world of health care.

Today, patients see various clinicians during their hospital stay and making sure these clinicians are all on the same page is at the heart of the multidisciplinary team model.

How do RTs fit into this construct? We asked two therapists who consider themselves integral parts of multidisciplinary teams in their facilities to weigh in. Caitlin Coppock, BS, RRT, RRT-ACCS, is a staff therapist at Integris Canadian Valley Hospital in Edmond, OK. Karsten Roberts, MSc, RRT, RRT-ACCS, is an RT at Penn Medicine, the University of Pennsylvania Health System in Philadelphia.

Here are their answers to our three questions about standing out on the multidisciplinary team —

1. First, briefly tell us about the multidisciplinary team you work with in your hospital and your role in it.

Caitlin Coppock: Our multidisciplinary team consists of respiratory therapists, pulmonologists, hospitalists, PA/APRNs, nurses, case management, and therapy when appropriate (PTs, OTs, SLPs). As respiratory therapists, we are responsible for using our protocols to effectively assess and treat our patients’ needs and effectively communicate concerns or needs that a protocol would not cover. Also, rounding daily on ICU patients with the hospitalists and pulmonologists helps all of us know what the goals of care are and address any concerns at that very moment, even barriers to discharge or needs outside of our facility.

Karsten Roberts: The multidisciplinary team that I am a part of is the tele-ICU. At the beginning of the pandemic, respiratory therapists were integrated into the tele-ICU team to support respiratory therapists working in the COVID-19 ICUs. The initial idea was simple. Decrease viral load and decrease PPE use. We are now supporting five hospitals in our system with quality improvement, patient assessments, and a second set of eyes to keep them safe. We work together with nurses, physicians, and APP staff to assure safe and effective care across entities.

2. What do you think are the 2-3 most important things RTs need to keep in mind when working on a multidisciplinary team, and why are each of these things most important to you?

Caitlin Coppock: I think the most important part of working on a multidisciplinary team is knowing what your role is within that team and staying focused as to the purpose of why the multidisciplinary team was established. For instance, our team was established to provide better continuity of care, as those team members change based on revolving schedules. We also address potential issues in a timely manner by identifying them in rounding and boundaries to discharge, even early on in the patient’s stay. Without knowing what our role is as the respiratory therapist on our team and what the purpose and goals of the group are, it would be difficult to contribute effectively.

Karsten Roberts: Effective communication is the most important aspect of work with a multidisciplinary team. Especially when we are trying to communicate over audio/visual telecommunications or secure text messaging platforms, we have to be able to convey a message efficiently and succinctly, especially during emergencies. Another important aspect is relationships. Having a good relationship with RNs, residents, APPs, and RTs in all of the areas we cover is important. If they know me and my role, they are much more likely to listen to my recommendations and take me seriously when I raise issues.

3. How do you believe being a good team player on multidisciplinary teams can further an RT’s career?

Caitlin Coppock: Being an active participant as a respiratory therapist on a multidisciplinary team shows the vast knowledge and expertise we can provide to many different care levels that often could be overlooked. In our system, there is potential for this participation to advance respiratory therapy into assistance with discharge planning, as well as into patient navigator roles, where they follow up with patients post-discharge. I also believe our engagement with these teams will help prepare the pathway of inclusion in advanced practice positions as the Advanced Practice Respiratory Therapist evolves and becomes licensed across the country.

Karsten Roberts: Again, I think the relationships we have with other disciplines have been key, at least in my career development. When asked about career development, one of the key aspects constantly brought up is, “Who do you know? How well do you know them? And do they trust you?” Getting to know people outside of the respiratory care department through committee work, volunteering, and a general sense of who to go to and for what reasons will help an RT advance their career.

How do you view the RT’s role on the multidisciplinary teams in your organization? Go to the Communities area of AARConnect and get the conversation started.

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