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What Is A Multidisciplinary Team? (Healthcare MDTs Explained)

What Is A Multidisciplinary Team? (Healthcare MDTs Explained)

Updated on: December 3, 2023
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Written By Dr Ollie

Every article is fact-checked by a medical professional. However, inaccuracies may still persist.

I think it was only after I started taking part in multidisciplinary team meetings as a doctor that I actually understood what they were and what value they could bring to patients.

A multidisciplinary team (MDT) in healthcare is a group of professionals from various disciplines who collaborate to provide comprehensive care for patients. These teams are designed to bring together the unique skills and expertise of each member, ultimately resulting in improved patient outcomes.

Through effective communication, collaboration, and coordinated planning, MDTs aim to deliver personalised and efficient care.

In the context of healthcare, MDTs typically include a range of professionals such as doctors, nurses, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, social workers, and other specialists.

Each member of the team contributes their specific knowledge and skills to develop a cohesive care plan tailored to the needs of the individual patient.

The collective approach allows MDTs to assess each case from multiple perspectives, enhancing the quality of care and preventing gaps in service provision.

Key Takeaways

  • Multidisciplinary teams consist of various professionals working together to provide comprehensive care for patients with complex health needs.
  • The diverse skills and knowledge within the team contribute to tailored care plans and improved patient outcomes.
  • Collaboration within MDTs leads to integrated care, greater efficiency, and the sharing of best practices among healthcare professionals.

What Is A Multidisciplinary Team?

The concept of multidisciplinary care can be traced back to the early 20th century.

However, it became more prominent in the latter half of the century as healthcare began to recognise the complexity of patient needs, which often required a multifaceted approach.

As medicine evolved and specialisation increased, there was a growing realisation that no single professional had the breadth of expertise needed to address all aspects of patient care, especially for chronic or complex conditions.

In the 1970s and 1980s, MDTs gained significant traction in cancer care.

What Is A Multidisciplinary Team Pixel Inforgraphic

Recognising that cancer treatment often required surgeons, oncologists, radiologists, and other specialists to work together, many hospitals began organising tumour boards or multidisciplinary cancer conferences.

By the 1990s, the multidisciplinary approach started expanding beyond cancer care.

Fields such as rehabilitation, geriatrics, paediatrics, and mental health began to adopt this model to optimise patient outcomes.

Today, MDTs are a standard in many healthcare settings.

The collective expertise of an MDT often results in better diagnostic and treatment decisions, as professionals can discuss and debate the best course of action.

Who’s In A Multidisciplinary Team?

There’s no one set line-up for a multidisciplinary team in healthcare. Which professionals make up an MDT all depends on the setting and the patient’s needs.

Example Of A Hospital MDT

In a hospital setting, an MDT might consist of the following professionals:

  • Doctors: A range of specialist doctors may be involved, such as surgeons, oncologists, cardiologists, or psychiatrists.
  • Nurses: Specialist and general nurses play a pivotal role in the team, providing expert care and support to patients.
  • Therapists: Therapists, such as physiotherapists, occupational therapists, and speech and language therapists, help patients with rehabilitation and recovery.
  • Pharmacists: They provide advice on medication and ensure that patients receive the appropriate medications during their treatment.

Example Of A Community/GP MDT

In a community or general practice setting, an MDT might include the following professionals:

  • General Practitioners (GPs): They provide primary medical care and act as a patient’s first point of contact in the healthcare system.
  • Nurses: Practice nurses offer a wide range of care services, including health promotion, immunisations, and management of long-term conditions.
  • Pharmacists: Community pharmacists ensure patients receive the appropriate medication and can provide advice on managing various conditions.
  • Social Workers: Social workers address the social needs of patients, such as housing, financial support, or care provision.

Who’s In Charge Of An MDT?

There’s rarely one set leader in an MDT- the leadership role may vary depending on the team’s structure and the setting.

In some cases, a senior clinician or specialist doctor may take charge, while in other instances, a nurse or therapist may lead the team.

Ultimately, the goal of the MDT is to deliver comprehensive, coordinated, and person-centred care for patients, and effective communication across disciplines is essential for achieving this.

What Do Multidisciplinary Teams Do?

MDTs play a vital role in ensuring that patients with different needs receive a seamless flow of care.

MDT meetings are typically held in a conference room or a dedicated space equipped with the necessary IT.

After a brief introduction, a particular patient’s case is presented, often by the responsible doctor or a designated member of the team familiar with the patient.

Essential details about the patient’s condition, history, diagnostic results, and current treatments are shared with the group.

As this information is presented, radiological images or lab results may be displayed on screens for everyone to review.

Once the case has been laid out, various team members contribute their insights, assessments, and recommendations.

For instance, a radiologist might interpret imaging results, a surgeon might discuss potential surgical interventions, and a nurse might provide input on the patient’s day-to-day well-being and response to treatments.

The discussion becomes an interactive session, with team members asking questions, offering suggestions, or raising concerns based on their expertise.

The objective is to reach a consensus on the best care plan for the patient, ensuring that all aspects of their health and well-being are considered.

After discussing a patient’s care, decisions are documented (in a doctor’s best handwriting), and tasks or action items are delegated to the appropriate team members.

The meeting progresses in this manner, with the team discussing multiple patients as time allows.

In addition to patient-specific discussions, MDT meetings might also address administrative issues, new protocols, or educational topics relevant to the team’s practice.

How often the team meets varies based on the hospital’s needs, type of hospital, and the complexity of cases. Some teams might meet daily, while others convene weekly or even monthly.

Benefits Of A Multidisciplinary Team

As I’ve somewhat touched on so far, there are some significant advantages to using an MDT approach in patient care.

Comprehensive Patient Care

By bringing together diverse expertise, these teams can provide more comprehensive care tailored to a patient’s unique condition.

This holistic approach ensures that all aspects of the patient’s wellbeing, including physical, mental, and social facets, are considered and addressed in their care plan.

Improved Communication

One of the key advantages of a multidisciplinary team is the improved communication between healthcare professionals.

When working together closely, team members can share information, insights, and resources more effectively.

This helps to ensure that everyone is on the same page regarding the patient’s care and that any decisions made are based on a collective understanding of the patient’s needs and progress.

  • Better information sharing: Team members can quickly and easily share updates and important information with one another.
  • Increased collaboration: Healthcare professionals have the opportunity to brainstorm and problem-solve together, leading to innovative solutions and a more cohesive approach to patient care.

Better Patient Outcomes

When healthcare professionals work as part of a multidisciplinary team, it generally improves outcomes for patients.

By providing a more coordinated and integrated approach to care, the team can identify and address potential issues before they escalate, helping to prevent complications and reduce the risk of poor treatment outcomes.

Additionally, patients with complex needs and long-term conditions typically benefit the most from this holistic care provision.

Challenges Of Multidisciplinary Team Working

While they generally do work well, it would be wrong to assume there aren’t any challenges associated with using a multidisciplinary team.

Hierarchy And Power Dynamics

The reality is that hierarchy and power dynamics can pose significant challenges to smooth team working.

Psychological barriers caused by professional silos, grades of doctors, and power differentials can hinder team performance and collaboration.

These dynamics can cause conflicts and undermine the sharing of information and decision-making processes.

Coordination Challenges

Coordination is another challenge faced by multidisciplinary teams in healthcare.

As the teams consist of individuals from different disciplines, each with their own schedules and departments, getting everyone together in one room isn’t always that easy.

Furthermore, organisational barriers, such as distributed teams and hybrid working models, can make it even more challenging to coordinate efforts and ensure the smooth functioning of the team.

Differing Professional Priorities

Multidisciplinary teams in healthcare often face challenges related to differing professional priorities among team members.

Each discipline may have its own priorities, goals, and practices, which can sometimes lead to disagreements and conflicts within the team.

These disagreements can make it difficult for the team to come together and work towards a common goal, potentially impacting the quality of patient care provided.

MDT Case Study

For this final section, I thought it could be useful to look at a case study of how an MDT would work together to care for a patient admitted to hospital with a broken hip.

Upon admission, the nursing staff would assess the patient’s immediate needs and manage their pain.

They would provide bedside care and communicate any concerns to the rest of the MDT.

A multidisciplinary team meeting in hospital

Meanwhile, a radiologist would evaluate X-rays and other imaging results to determine the severity of the fracture and inform the team about the type of injury.

The orthopaedic surgeon would then review the imaging results and determine the best course of action for repair, whether it be surgery or a non-surgical intervention.

The surgeon would discuss their recommendations with the rest of the MDT, ensuring all members are informed and can contribute their expertise to the decision-making process.

The physiotherapist would also be involved in the patient’s care, providing guidance on mobility and developing a rehabilitation plan to help the patient regain strength and function after the injury.

The occupational therapist would assess the patient’s home environment and suggest adaptations to promote independence and safety during recovery.

Depending on the patient’s overall health and any pre-existing conditions, additional specialists, such as a geriatrician, may be included in the MDT to manage other concerns and optimise the patient’s health throughout their hospital stay.

The pharmacist would ensure that medications are appropriate for the patient and coordinate with other team members to manage potential drug interactions.

Throughout this process, the MDT members would communicate regularly in meetings or via shared documentation, allowing them to share updates on the patient’s progress, discuss any complications, and plan for discharge and ongoing care.

By working in collaboration, the professionals in the MDT can provide comprehensive, integrated care that addresses the patient’s needs on multiple levels, leading to a successful recovery from the broken hip.

Final Thoughts

To quickly summarise, by working together, multidisciplinary teams foster integrated care for patients, offering a streamlined approach that improves efficiency and reduces the risk of fragmented services.

As we’ve just seen, the collaboration of specialists from different domains provides a comprehensive framework for addressing complex cases, leading to better health outcomes for patients.

Despite initially being developed for cancer care services, the multidisciplinary team is now an integral component of modern healthcare and is one of the best ways we can deal with the most complex of patient cases.

About the author
After studying medicine at the University of Leicester, Dr Ollie now works as a junior doctor in London. His interests include medical education and expedition medicine, as well as having a strong belief in the importance of widening access to medicine.