Background Collaboration between nurses and physicians is linked to positive outcomes for patients, especially in the intensive care unit. However, effective collaboration poses challenges because of traditional barriers such as sex and class differences, hierarchical organizational structures in health-care, and physicians’ belief that they are the final arbiter of clinical decisions.

Objective To further analyze the results of an investigation on how intensive care unit culture, expressed through everyday practices, affected the care of patients who became confused.

Methods A model of the types of knowledge (case, patient, and person) used in clinical work was used to analyze the breakdown in collaboration detected in the original study.

Results Breakdown of collaboration occurred because of the types of knowledge used by physicians and nurses. Certain types of knowledge were privileged even when not applicable to the clinical problem, whereas other types were dismissed even when applicable.

Conclusion Viewing collaboration through the conceptual lens of knowledge use reveals new insights. Collaboration broke down in the specific context of caring for patients with confusion because the use of case knowledge, rather than patient knowledge, was prominent in the intensive care unit culture.

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