December 3, 2009

Interprofessional Education - Benefits and Barriers

by Victoria T. Brown, Pharm.D., PGY1 Pharmacy Practice Resident, Johns Hopkins Hospital

The American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education (AJPE) recently published a theme issue on interprofessional education (IPE) (AJPE. 2009;Vol 73, Issue 4). The article that caught my attention utilized focus groups to identify perceived benefits and barriers to providing IPE (Smith KM, et al. AJPE 2009;73(4): Article 61). Representatives from six colleges of pharmacy separately attended a one-hour focus group session where open-ended questions were asked to assess the environment related to IPE at their respective institutions. The representatives were all considered to be leaders in education delivery at their institution. Most of the participants were affiliated with medicine (n=11, 27%) or pharmacy (n=9, 23%). However, there were also representatives from nursing, dentistry, and allied health.

The benefits of IPE are well-recognized. The Institute of Medicine includes IPE in its ten tenets for reforming healthcare education to improve the quality of patient care by teaching students to work in an interprofessional practice. A book published by the National Academies Press entitled Health Professions Education: A Bridge to Quality is largely dedicated to interprofessional education and the Institute of Medicine's call to action. The benefits of IPE identified by the focus groups included: (1) enhancing student education and training, (2) capitalizing upon economies of scale, (3) expanding opportunities for research and scholarship, (4) improving communication among healthcare professions, (5) promoting teamwork, and (6) improving quality of care and patient outcomes.

The barriers to IPE are not abstract, but tangible issues related to the current structure of healthcare education. The barriers identified revolve around the themes of curricular concerns, limited resources, lack of conceptual support, and cultural challenges connected to each profession. Currently, each discipline lives in a silo with different curricular requirements, accreditation standards, and budgets. Pharmacy has perhaps taken the boldest steps to reform accreditation standards. The Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education (ACPE) Standards 2007 holds schools accountable for training students to provide patient care as a member of the interprofessional health care team. I would agree with the authors that until accreditation standards explicitly require interprofessional education there will be little external motivation for changing the current structure.

My initial reaction to the move towards more IPE was one of excitement and opportunity. As a new practitioner, I often wish I understood more about the training of other healthcare professionals. More so, I often wish they understood more about my training. Nevertheless, the barriers presented in this paper are very real, especially those related to financial constraints. With the economy being what it is, completely redesigned curriculums for multiple disciplines is a low priority for most institutions. Therefore, my prediction is that the changes towards IPE will be made in small incremental steps and will focus initially on service-learning activities and elective courses. As a student, I took two elective interprofessional courses. One of the courses focused on creating services for an urban middle school. The other course was an ethics course in which interprofessional groups discussed various ethical dilemmas related to patient scenarios. In neither of these courses was I learning pathophysiology or drug therapy alongside my colleagues in medicine or nursing. However, at the end of the course, I left with an appreciation for their thought process and experiences. When providing patient care together, these insights may be more valuable than knowing we learned similar scientific information. The article indicates that a couple of the programs have their students participate in interprofessional cases or OSCEs (objective, structured clinical examinations). This would seem to be the next logical step following service-learning or elective courses. In practice, the expectation will be to care for the patient in this manner. This takes team-based learning to an entirely new level.

Finally, the authors conclude that new faculty will be called on to deliver IPE as never before. For me, this is a strong call to learn all I can during my residency from physicians, nurses and other allied health professionals. By taking this opportunity now, I hope to have the skills and evidence to breakdown some of the barriers. In the end, patients will reap the benefits from a healthcare team which is working together.

[Editor's Commentary: Implementing interprofessional education in a meaningful way throughout the curriculum is a major challenge. Beyond the logistical issues, such as physical space and scheduling, there is a lack of expertise (e.g. faculty who have the knowledge, skills, and attitudes needed to teach interprofessional skills) and a pervasive fear that professional identity will be lost. If all healthcare professionals are trained in a similar way, what special knowledge or skills will each professional bring to the team? Pharmacy faces unique challenges because many (indeed most) work in places (such as community pharmacies) where the physical proximity to other members of the team is a structural barrier. While clinically trained pharmacist often work along side physicians, nurses, dietitians, and social workers in teaching hospitals, this model of care has not yet been widely adopted. And even in teaching hospitals, team-based interprofessional collaboration is less than optimal. Just because a group of people walk around together from room-to-room doesn't mean they are functioning as an effective team. We have a lot to learn! The American College of Clinical Pharmacy recently published a comprehensive White Paper on Interprofessional Education and an official Position Statement. I believe the key to changes in interprofessional care are linked to the payment model. It is only through a payment system that emphasizes quality and provides incentives for interprofessional collaboration will we see major changes in the structure of health care delivery ... which in turn will necessitate major changes in the structure of health professional education. In the mean time, health professional educators will need to continue to experiment with various of models of care AND interprofessional education to prove that these new models are indeed worth adopting! -S.H.]

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