Collaborative care between family therapists and medical providers: A Delphi study

Kimberly K Walter, Purdue University


Over the last few decades, more mental and physical health care providers have been working together, or collaborating, to better serve their patients and the patients' families. There has been a variety of terms used to describe a collaborative relationship between mental and physical healthcare providers. Some of the terms include; "medical family therapy," "family systems medicine," "collaborative family healthcare," "shared care," "collaborative care," "integrated care," "biopsychosocial care," "patient centered care," and "citizen healthcare." At the 2004 Collaborative Family Healthcare Association conference considerable confusion about vocabulary and definition was highlighted as an area that needed to be clarified if the field was to move forward. There is also uncertainty in the literature as to whether these collaborative relationships are a field, area, specialization, specialty, or sub-specialty. Finally, there is confusion as to what role Marriage and Family Therapists (MFTs) are currently performing and what are the possibilities for MFTs in the future within these collaborative relationships, per reports of American Association of Marriage and Family Therapy members at the 2004 national AAMFT conference. The intention of this study was three fold; (1) to gain consensus on defining the collaborative relationship between mental and physical healthcare providers and how this relationship is conceptualized, (2) to identify the key components necessary for mental and physical healthcare professionals to work together successfully, and (3) to identify what it takes from MFTs specifically to participate in a successful collaborative relationship with health care providers. Delphi methodology was used to collect data from a panel of experts in collaborative healthcare. Twenty-three experts in collaborative healthcare participated in the Delphi I, twenty participated in the Delphi II. Analyses of panelists' responses revealed we made significant progress toward our three research objectives. Panelists came to consensus on a single term for the collaboration between mental and physical health care providers, Collaborative Care, and identified specific components that are necessary for Collaborative Care to be successful. Specific focus is given to MFT's in Collaborative Care. Directions for future research as well as implications for the training and practice of MFTs are discussed.




Thomas, Purdue University.

Subject Area

Health care

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