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  • Primary Health Care Research & Development, Volume 10, Issue 2
  • April 2009, pp. 151-162

The impact of space and time on interprofessional teamwork in Canadian primary health care settings: implications for health care reform

  • Ivy F. Oandasan (a1), Lesley Gotlib Conn (a2), Lorelei Lingard (a3), Allia Karim (a2), Difat Jakubovicz (a4), Cynthia Whitehead (a5), Karen-Lee Miller (a6), Natalie Kennie (a7) and Scott Reeves (a8)
  • DOI:
  • Published online: 01 April 2009

This paper explores the impact of space and time on interprofessional teamwork in three primary health care centres and the implications for Canadian and other primary health care reform.


Primary health care reform in Canada has emphasized the creation of interprofessional teams for the delivery of collaborative patient-centred care. This involves the expansion and transformation of existing primary health care centres into interprofessional family health teams (FHT) promising to provide patients better access, more comprehensive care, and improved utilization of individual health professionals. Benefits for providers include improved workplace satisfaction and organizational efficiencies. Currently, there is little evidence for how effective interprofessional teamwork happens and little is known about how to create high-functioning teams in the primary health care setting.


We used ethnographic observations and interviews to gain a deep understanding of the nature of interprofessional teamwork. Three academic family health centres participated in a total of 139 h of observation and 37 interviews. Team members in all three centres from the disciplines of medicine, nursing, physiotherapy, occupational therapy, social work, dietetics, pharmacy, and office administration participated in this study.


We found that both the quantity and quality of interprofessional communication and collaboration in primary health care is significantly impacted by space and time. Across our research sites, the physical layout of clinical space and the temporal organization of clinical practice led to different approaches to, and degrees of success with, interprofessional teamwork. Varied models of interprofessional collaboration resulted when these factors came together in different ways. These findings have important implications for the transition to interprofessional family health teams in Canada and beyond.

Corresponding author
Correspondence to: Ivy F. Oandasan (MD CCFP MHSc FCFP), Office of Interprofessional Education at the University Health Network, Toronto Western Hospital, 750 Dundas Street West, Suite. 302 Toronto, Ontario M6J 3S3. Email:
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Primary Health Care Research & Development
  • ISSN: 1463-4236
  • EISSN: 1477-1128
  • URL: /core/journals/primary-health-care-research-and-development
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