Learning Together: How Interprofessional Education Can Strengthen Health Care Professional Relationships and Improve Patient Care
Interprofessional education (IPE) has received growing international attention and has been championed by influential national organizations, such as the Institute of Medicine. The implementation of IPE represents a commitment from health care professional schools to provide the opportunity for future doctors, nurses, and pharmacists to learn with, and about, each other. By putting students of different disciplines in the same space, IPE fosters a shared perspective of common values and ethics in health care. When students train together, they are more likely to respect each other and understand the roles of their respective fields of expertise.
The advancing complexity of the health care system coupled with the alarming shortage of doctors solicits a need for teamwork among health care professionals. There is a wealth of evidence to support that interprofessional collaboration curtails adverse events, readmission rates, and medication errors. Those studies complement investigations into the root causes of medical errors, which point to communication failure as the primary culprit. The push for IPE has the potential to reverse the historic trend of isolated education and hierarchical power structures that create barriers to communication.
As an emerging field, IPE is far from standardized, and medical educators across the nation have experimented with several types of programs. Small group didactics, team simulations, and home visits are some of the ways that forward-thinking institutions have implemented IPE. Those projects have received remarkable positive feedback from students, but that is not enough to stimulate cultural change from institutions that may be stuck in their ways. Additional evidence is needed as IPE evolves and expands across the United States. Experts from the Institute of Medicine recommend a mixed-methods approach to analyzing the impact IPE courses have on patient care, medical education, and interpersonal relationships. Through evidence-based refinement, IPE will provide the medical community a tremendous return on investment through reduced medical errors from the communication skills it generates.
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