DFCM’s QI Program Examines What Makes Interprofessional Primary Care Teams Function Optimally

Oct 19, 2016

As primary care renewal continues throughout Canada, interest in team-based care continues to grow. Interprofessional primary care teams are often physician led but include nurse practitioners, registered nurses, pharmacists, social workers, dietitians, and other professionals who work together to provide care for their community.

Team-based care has been shown to improve physical, psychological and emotional symptoms in patients with complex, chronic conditions. Providers working in interprofessional teams have also been shown to experience greater job satisfaction, enhanced knowledge and skills and lower levels of stress. At the system level, evidence shows that interprofessional primary care teams are more efficient with resources and more effective at managing chronic conditions.

As the popularity of these models grow, however, more research is needed to determine best practices relating to the structure, functioning, funding, governance, effectiveness and maturity of interprofessional primary care teams.

The Department of Family and Community Medicine’s Quality Improvement (QI) Program, led by Fidani Chair of Improvement and Innovation in Family Medicine, Dr. Philip Ellison, are taking a lead on this. In a new report, “The Teaming Project: Learning from high-functioning interprofessional primary care teams,” the QI program highlights lessons learned from five high-functioning primary care teams across Canada. 

Effective communication, for instance, is a commonly cited attribute of high-functioning primary care teams. Case study interviews stressed the importance of an open-door culture and uninhibited, safe communication between team members to ensure optimal patient care. Closely tied to this is a style of leadership that shows openness to ideas, embraces innovation and enables the success of others. Other key attributes of high-functioning teams include a focus on patient experience and a mix of clarity and flexibility around roles.

While the strengths of interprofessional primary care teams are increasingly clear, these teams are not immune from risks and challenges. Managing practice growth, recruitment and retention of team mem­bers, building capacity in quality improvement and succession planning were all highlighted by participants in the study.  

While the Teaming Project is an important first step, there’s still much more to learn. The QI Program hopes the process of learning from these high-functioning primary care teams will inspire the efforts of others, encourage reflection and spark new conversations about how to navigate the team improve­ment journey from good to great.


The QI Program team would like to acknowledge the use of funds through the Fidani Chair in Improvement and Innovation that have enabled the Teaming Project.

 “Effective teaming is a great way to improve the provider experience.”   Dr. Philip Ellison