Why is inter-professional communication so hard?

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When I was asked to write a post discussing my current research, I happily accepted the chance! Yet each time I’ve sat down to write I’ve been stumped. I start a post and it begins talking about the value of multidisciplinary work (not a brainwave), and then I change tact and write about how difficult it is to build good collaborative relationships with other professionals. Then I think, ‘No, no it’s about ensuring everyone is on the same page’ – professionals and clients alike. The more I tried to lock down the key issues, the more I became overwhelmed with where to begin… and so I landed on the question “Why is inter-professional communication so hard?

As a starter, there are a million reasons: the time pressures, the difficulties understanding who to speak to about what issues, the difficulties understanding what other professionals actually do!? Sometimes it seems like it’s not what you know, but who you know that makes collaboration easier – if you find a great professional and strike up a good relationship with them, information exchange flows freely.

But should it be dependent on 1:1 relationships for our system to run? That for families to receive cohesive and complementary support and intervention to be purely based on their clinician’s networking abilities? Surely not!

I’m a psychologist by training who has worked most of my career with children and families from all over NSW. Looking at my exposure to communicating with other professionals, I know the more complex the case, the more paperwork the families arrive with. The family seem to be seeking treatment, but also acting as small carrier pigeons – carrying reports and documents from one professional to another. I wonder, is exchanging papers a way professionals ensure the client is included in their care? Is it highlighting child and family-centred care, or is it just a way to make us feel everyone is on the same page, without actually communicating directly?

These questions draw me back to the original dilemma – in trying to think about how to write about the issue of professional collaboration and communication I started to wonder…

What information am I giving to my client or the family that I’m assuming they will understand and pass onto the other professionals involved? Will that professional receive it? Read it? Find it helpful? Use it as a coaster?

In a hospital tertiary setting, I have the benefit of learning from my multi-disciplinary colleagues. They can often give me advice about how to “translate” my psychology reports into pieces of information that are useful to other roles. To round out my multidisciplinary “advisory board” I live with a speech pathologist, an occupational therapist and a primary school teacher (sounds like the start of a bad allied health joke doesn’t it!?). I began to think if I don’t know how to communicate with these other professional groups with confidence and ease, what does everyone else experience?

Is the information I send to the speech pathologist or occupational therapist useful to their planning?

Does the social worker involved like or loathe my opinions on how a family in a complex situation should be supported?

Does the teacher or early childhood educator roll their eyes or clap their hands when they get a request from me to be involved in a case conference meeting?

I have over 10 years of tertiary training, an on-hand phone-a-friend advisory board, and considerable experience with some of the more complex scenarios across NSW. If I feel “lost at sea”, I’m sure others must be in the same boat….but perhaps no one is communicating well enough to jump aboard and work together to find our way back to shore

So my research is looking at just this: how and if we communicate well with each other to collaborate and provide care for the clients we share. Also, what happens when we feel things start to go awry, like in the case of child protection and wellbeing scenarios. Do we feel confident and clear in how to communicate with one another then?


I’d love to hear your thoughts, experiences, and questions. Take part in the research here:  


Facebook: facebook.com/InfoExchangeResearch2017


Amelia Hawkins is a Registered Psychologist and has worked for the last 10 years in mental health roles. For the last 7 years, Amelia has worked within a specialist multidisciplinary team within the Health sector, servicing children and families from across NSW with emotional and behavioural difficulties needing tertiary level intervention. She has completed further studies, a Certificate in Developmental Trauma, and is currently completing a Masters of Psychology (Clinical).

Emma Pierce
Emma Pierce
Transition to School / Inclusion Coordinator Emma has worked in the non-government disability sector for the last 18 years. She has developed and facilitated training and resources for parents and professionals across NSW and presented papers at national and state conferences. Emma was previously the Manager of Building Blocks® Early Intervention Service at Autism Spectrum Australia (Aspect). Emma also lectures casually at Western Sydney University and works as an independent consultant to Early Childhood Intervention services. Emma is the main author of ECIA NSW’s Transition to School Resource and has worked for ECIA NSW/ACT since 2013.

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