Background Nurses play an important role in the treatment and care of adults in both hospital and primary health care working within complex and fragmented organizational systems. As the nature of health care changes and hospital and primary care sectors become more closely associated, nurses in both sectors have an obligation to increase their collaboration. Aims This study aimed to increase the understanding of collaboration between nurses working with adults in hospital and primary health care, and to facilitate the future measurement of this collaboration. Methods A literature review was undertaken in July and August 2013 using CINAHL and MEDLINE databases from the earliest to August 2013. The searches produced 4951 citations that were reduced to 22 articles for review using a four-step inclusion strategy. Inductive content analysis was used to analyse the data. Results It is suggested that collaboration is a process that contains (1) collaboration precursors: the opportunity to participate, knowledge and shared objectives; (2) elements of collaboration: competency, awareness and understanding of work roles and interaction; and (3) processes and outcomes: the events or behaviours that are the consequences of the collaboration between hospital and primary healthcare nurses. Conclusions The results indicate that collaboration between hospital and primary healthcare nurses is an important and integral part of the work of nurses and a process consisting of several predictable issues leading to useful care outcomes.