Large-scale changes in the organization of health care in the Netherlands urge health care professionals to learn to collaborate in increasingly interdisciplinary teams. Health care professionals (e.g., general practitioners, pharmacists, physical therapists, psychologists) are expected to operate more at the boundaries of disciplines, take stock of each others' work and collaboratively implement health care innovations in local interdisciplinary teams (Fay, Borrill, Amir, Haward & West, 2006; Länsisalmi, Kivimäki, Aalto & Ruoranen, 2006). However, as professional autonomy is the norm and working in such interdisciplinary teams is new to many health care professionals, the question arises how interdisciplinary knowledge sharing in such teams occurs, and how it may support or hinder efforts at innovation implementation. Moreover, it may be that the extent to which health care professionals are aware of other professionals' skills, knowledge and roles (a concept we labeled interdisciplinary awareness) mediates the relationship between interdisciplinary knowledge sharing and support for innovation.
To examine these questions, we explored knowledge exchange in the social network of a single local interdisciplinary health care group in the Netherlands. We collected network and survey data among health care professionals (N = 100) in eight different health care disciplines. We calculated several (new) network measures to reflect the diversity and frequency of interaction in these interdisciplinary health care teams and further analyzed the data using multiple regression/mediation analysis (Zhao, Lynch, & Chen, 2010). Our findings suggest that the more health care professionals exchange work-related knowledge with professionals from other disciplines, the higher the perceived support for implementing innovations (both in terms of frequency and diversity of network interaction). In addition, we found that interdisciplinary awareness did not significantly explain this relationship. As interdisciplinary work among health care professionals, and the medical complexity in their fields, is increasing rapidly, this research suggests that investments in knowledge sharing and network building in interdisciplinary health care teams is vital for innovative local health care efforts.