The Multidisciplinary Approach: Maximizing Orthopedic Outcomes

Multidisciplinary care in orthopedics - team of doctors and specialists discussing patient's treatment plan.
Discover how a multidisciplinary care team can drive greater patient satisfaction and outcomes in orthopedics.

Picture this: you’re about to perform surgery on a patient with an underlying health condition. You don’t consult with the anesthesiologist beforehand, so you’re unaware they personalized their approach due to the underlying condition — a decision that can change your patient’s postoperative pain levels. Because prior consultation with the anesthesiologist didn’t occur, you won’t know what pain to expect for your patient, and they might not recognize their pain levels are unusually high.

Without the expertise of other healthcare providers, you’re likely to miss out on essential data that drives better clinical decision making. A multidisciplinary approach to orthopedic care enables you and your team to better support patients, whether or not they need surgery. This enhanced support leads to higher patient compliance with treatment protocols and ultimately maximizes patient outcomes.

Benefits of a multidisciplinary team in orthopedics

Delivering excellent patient care is a team sport. A multidisciplinary team combines the expertise of multiple healthcare providers so that together you have a more holistic view of the patient’s treatment and recovery.

Orthopedic surgery was an early adopter of multidisciplinary care when geriatricians collaborated with orthopedic teams to manage fractures in older patients. A recent meta-analysis of randomized clinical trials for elderly patients with hip fractures found that a multidisciplinary approach to geriatric care was shown to promote better functional outcomes.

The growing field of orthogeriatrics isn’t the only one boosted by multidisciplinary care. A 2021 study found that a multidisciplinary ortho-vascular approach to treating malignant and soft tissue tumors resulted in an 85% survival rate with few major local complications. Here are some of the other benefits of multidisciplinary care for you and your patients:

  • Improved patient outcomes
  • Higher patient and team satisfaction
  • Streamlined workflow and communication between healthcare providers
  • More efficient use of resources and time
  • Reduced costs and length of stay
  • Fewer adverse events
  • Increased access to a full range of therapeutic options for patients

How to use a multidisciplinary approach in orthopedic patient care

To successfully implement a multidisciplinary approach to patient care, you need full commitment from everyone involved, including the patients themselves. With total buy-in from your team and patients, you get the advantage of enhanced collaboration and more efficient communication between providers and patients.

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Collaborate with a variety of healthcare providers

When each member of a multidisciplinary care team incorporates their expertise into a treatment plan, your patients receive more thorough and attentive care across all areas of their recovery.

While you are responsible for the musculoskeletal and surgical aspects of treatment, other providers in a multidisciplinary team focus on the many other facets of a patient’s care plan. Their assessments will provide valuable insight into the patient’s health and better inform your clinical decision making.

Depending on the patient, your multidisciplinary team may include:

  • Physical therapist
  • Occupational therapist
  • Speech therapist
  • Nurse practitioner
  • Nutritionist
  • Anesthesiologist
  • Internist
  • Neurologist
  • Radiologist
  • Plastic surgeon
  • Certified athletic trainer
  • Orthotist
  • Non-medical staff, like social workers and counselors

A multidisciplinary team offers support to patients across multiple areas for optimal recovery. With multiple providers checking in with patients throughout their treatment, your team will better implement a care plan. Take early mobilization, one of the critical protocols in enhanced recovery after surgery (ERAS), as an example. A 2014 retrospective review of electronic medical records found that early mobilization within six hours after surgery improved patient outcomes by decreasing pain and length of stay. Patients also saw better functional outcomes with an average 132% increase in distance walked — a significant win for orthopedic surgery patients.

To encourage proper early mobilization, you need a multidisciplinary team united under a common goal to educate patients on these protocols. Coordinate with the postoperative recovery team to plan when and how patients should get moving after surgery. For example, physical therapists and occupational therapists will lead patients through functional mobility interventions, like sitting on the edge of the bed, standing, and walking. During these interventions, nurses will collaborate to ensure supportive equipment like catheters aren’t dislodged, which can cause injury, and check in with the patient regularly to see if they’re regaining mobility as expected.

The multidisciplinary approach also enables other team members to identify issues that aren’t part of the initial care plan and refer patients to treatment. Nurse practitioner Molly Grant from Shriners Children’s Chicago shared another powerful example in pediatrics to explain the value of multidisciplinary care. Let’s say a child with cerebral palsy visits an orthopedic surgeon for hip dysplasia. During the evaluation, the nurse practitioner notices that the child is drooling. Although it seems like a minor problem, drooling is messy, uncomfortable, and sets a child apart from their peers. The nurse practitioner then refers the child to a plastic surgeon, who can easily treat the drooling with botulinum toxin (Botox) or surgery, if necessary.

Encourage patients to invest in their own recovery

Patients committed to their recovery are more likely to comply with their treatment protocols, leading to better patient outcomes.

Compliance is a common challenge among orthopedic patients: a 2015 literature review found that up to 80% of patients do not wear orthotic devices or orthopedic shoes as prescribed, often due to discomfort or difficulty of use. Focusing on patient education during and after appointments is essential to achieving patient buy-in. If your patients don’t know how their treatment plan will help them, they have little incentive to follow it. But when they understand how or why they might get poor results, they are more likely to stick to their care plan to avoid any negative consequences to their health.

Let’s say a college athlete comes to your practice with pain from an old injury but wants to avoid surgery. You refer them to physical therapy and collaborate with the physical therapist to closely monitor the patient’s progress with regular check-ins.

However, the physical therapist notices that the patient isn’t performing their home exercise protocols (HEPs) as prescribed, and their range of motion isn’t progressing as expected. You then remind the patient that they might require surgical intervention if the injury worsens. With this in mind, the patient starts practicing their HEPs three times a week, rather than just whenever they remember, and the physical therapist notices a marked improvement after a few weeks.

Add technology to improve connection with patients

Regular communication with your patients is vital to a successful treatment plan. A 2022 cross-sectional study of physician-patient communication found that patients’ adherence to treatment increased when they were satisfied with communication. Technology enables you to stay connected with patients between appointments and provide all the support they need to follow their recovery plan as prescribed.

By leveraging technology to increase touchpoints with patients, you can bridge the gap between your team and your patients even if you go weeks between follow-up appointments. When patients know their provider is tracking their adherence to treatment, like performing HEPs, they are much more likely to comply and improve their outcomes.

Exer Health is one example of how technology enhances the connection between providers and patients. The AI-powered software measures precise motion data, such as range of motion and rep counts, to provide objective information for evaluating a patient’s progress. For patients recovering at home, Exer Health offers virtual connection through in-app form correction and weekly reminders to motivate them to stay engaged with their treatment plan.

Leverage multidisciplinary strategies to drive patient satisfaction and outcomes

A multidisciplinary team offers patients a greater range of treatment options, from orthopedic surgery and physical therapy to nutrition and non-medical support. With multiple providers invested in their recovery, patients receive support across many areas of their treatment plan, ultimately improving patient satisfaction and the quality of care.

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