Interprofessional education (IPE) occurs when students from two or more professions learn about, from and with each other to enable effective collaboration and improve health outcomes (WHO 2010).
First introduced nearly 50 years ago, interprofessional education has been endorsed by the World Health Organisation for over twenty years, yet it still remains a style of teaching that is underused and often misunderstood.
Done well, it’s a powerful way of helping students to understand their own professional identity, at the same time as gaining an understanding of the roles of other professionals within the healthcare team.
Why has interprofessional education become so important?
Today’s patients have increasingly complex health needs and typically require more than one health care discipline to address the full spectrum of their care.
Yet as Sanborn (2018) points out, the delivery of such complex care often occurs in compartmentalised silos, and with this comes a greater risk of misunderstandings and suboptimal communication between different professional disciplines.
One solution that has gained popularity over the years is interprofessional education, as this provides a practical framework for learning and clinical practice that has a singular focus on the patients’ needs above all else.
In the view of Carpenter and Dickinson (2016), a key benefit of interprofessional education lies in bringing practitioners from different professions together. Not only can they learn from each other, they also learn about each other. This alone has been proven to help dispel any negative stereotypes which may hamper collaboration in practice.
These views are echoed equally strongly by Bridges et al. (2011) who suggest that IPE helps to prepare practitioners to become collaborative interprofessional team members who can both show respect and positive attitudes towards each other, and also work towards the common goal of improved patient care.
Key features of IPE
There are a number of key features of interprofessional education that are central to its successful implementation within the healthcare organisation.
Communication –Interprofessional communication should be clear, problem focused, and avoid discipline-specific terms and abbreviations.
Teams and Teamwork –Embracing relationship-building principles to develop effective team dynamics with other disciplines is the key to delivering safe, efficient and effective patient care.
Roles and Responsibilities – Practitioners should have a good understanding of their own role, as well as how the role of other disciplines helps address the needs of complex patient care.
Values and Ethics –Effective collaboration with other disciplines requires mutual respect and shared values for the skills and knowledge each practitioner brings to the healthcare team.
Key benefits of IPE
Based on research originally conducted by the World Health Organisation, the key benefits of adopting interprofessional education can be thought of as follows:
Students develop the ability to share knowledge and skills collaboratively;
Removal of a compartmentalised curricula;
Integration of new skills and areas of knowledge;
Improved interprofessional communication;
Generation of new roles;
Students become competent in teamwork;
Interprofessional research is promoted;
Understanding and cooperation between educational and research institutions is improved;
Collective consideration of resource allocation according to need is facilitated; and
Consistency in curriculum design is ensured.
As Bridges et al. (2011) notes, the interprofessional approach facilitates vital sharing of expertise and encourages all practitioners to focus on the common goal of restoring or maintaining optimal patient health. It’s a movement fueled by the ever-greater complexity of patient needs and the clear recognition that no one profession alone can respond adequately to the multiplicity of problems that many patients have.
Another, quite different driver for the popularity of IPE, has been the dramatic rise of inquiries into medical errors in recent years. Many cases of medical errors, or negligence, can be attributed to problematic communications, or suboptimal relationships between professions.
As Barr (2018) comments, interprofessional education, joint training or shared learning, as it is often called, is often suggested as a solution in the belief that it can improve professional collaboration, either in response to the need for comprehensive care or to reduce errors.
At its core, IPE represents a shift of emphasis, away from a culture of blame and towards a systemic analysis of failure. It also flags up the responsibility for professionals to work together to improve the health and wellbeing of individuals, families and communities.
As Barr (2018) notes, even though IPE can never be more than part of a package to improve care, or reduce errors, it is none the less an indispensable part.
Moving From Fragmented Care to Combined Strength
Moving forward, there remains a clear need for health educators to remain open to new and innovative ways to prepare students to work interprofessionally.
In moving from fragmented care to collaborative teamwork, interprofessional healthcare teams are beginning to explore how individual practitioners can share case management and provide better health services to patients and the community.
If improved patient care, reduced costs and greater overall health within the population is to be achieved, then the process must start with interprofessional education. It’s an essential step on the pathway to collaboration-ready healthcare professionals (Watkins 2016).
Interprofessional education, continuing interprofessional education, interprofessional collaboration, and interprofessional care are all beginning to influence the way health care is delivered (Reeves 2009). It’s a view echoed by Sargeant (2009) amongst others who suggest that IPE isn’t just for students but should be carried forward into continuing education with the adoption of new content, recognition of new knowledge, and use of new approaches for learning.
Ultimately, healthcare educators must meet the challenge of finding sustainable ways to work together and coordinate health workforce strategies. As Gilbert et al. (2010) suggest if health workforce planning and policy-making are integrated, interprofessional education and collaborative practice can be fully supported.
As with any evolution in practice, more research is needed to allow sound conclusions to be reached about the effectiveness of IPE, as well as to inform and guide IPE policy development (Cochrane Review 2013).
Yet, already the organic growth of IPE in recent years is beginning to shift perceptions about how health care teams can best work together to improve patient lives.
Sanborn (2018) asks the question “Are you ready to embrace this new way of delivering care?”.
It’s an important question to ask as the realisation dawns that it’s no longer enough for health workers to be professional, the time has come for all health practitioners to be interprofessional, and that has to begin with education.
Barr, H. (2018) Interprofessional education, Available at: http://www.nvmo.nl/resources/js/tinymce/plugins/imagemanager/files/20120926_HFDS24boekXX-2002_Barr-H_Interprofessional_Education.pdf#page=29(Accessed: 3rd September 2018).
Bridges, D.R., Davidson, Soule Odegard, P. et al. (2011) ‘Interprofessional collaboration: three best practice models of interprofessional education’, Medical Education Online, 16( 1), pp. [Online]. Available at: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.3402/meo.v16i0.6035(Accessed: 3rd September 2018).
Carpenter, J. and Dickinson, C. (2016) ‘Understanding interprofessional education as an intergroup encounter: The use of contact theory in programme planning’, Journal of Interprofessional Care, 30(1), pp. [Online]. Available at: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.3109/13561820.2015.1070134(Accessed: 3rd September 2018).
Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews (2013) Interprofessional education: effects on professional practice and healthcare outcomes, Available at: https://www.cochranelibrary.com/cdsr/doi/10.1002/14651858.CD002213.pub3/information(Accessed: 3rd September 2018).
Gilbert, G.H.V., Yan, J. and Hoffman, S.J. (2010) ‘A WHO Report: Framework for Action on Interprofessional Education and Collaborative Practice’, Journal of Allied Health, 39(No 3 Pt 2 (Special Report)), pp. [Online]. Available at: http://scholar.harvard.edu/files/hoffman/files/18_-_jah_-_overview_of_who_framework_for_action_on_ipe_and_cp_2010_gilbert-yan-hoffman.pdf(Accessed: 3rd September 2018).
Reeves, S. (2009) ‘An overview of continuing interprofessional education’, Journal of Continuing Education in the Health Professions, 29(3), pp. 142-146 [Online]. Available at: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/toc/1554558x/2009/29/3(Accessed: 3rd September 2018).
Sanborn, H. (2018) How Interprofessional Education is Transforming the Nursing Role, Available at: https://dailynurse.com/how-interprofessional-education-is-transforming-the-nursing-role/(Accessed: 3rd September 2018).
Sargeant, J. (2009) ‘Theories to aid understanding and implementation of interprofessional education’, Journal of Continuing Education in the Health Professions, 29(3), pp. 178-184 [Online]. Available at: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/toc/1554558x/2009/29/3(Accessed: 3rd September 2018).
Watkins, K. D. (2016) ‘Faculty development to support interprofessional education in healthcare professions: A realist synthesis’, Journal of Interprofessional Care, 30(6), pp. [Online]. Available at: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/13561820.2016.1209466(Accessed: 3rd September 2018).
World Health Organisation (2010) Education and training Governance and planning Migration and retention Nursing and midwifery Statistics Community-based health workers Resource centre News and events Links Framework for action on interprofessional education and collaborative practice, Available at: http://www.who.int/hrh/resources/framework_action/en/(Accessed: 3rd September 2018).