Patients are safer, receive better health care and are more satisfied with their experiences when health-care professionals understand the roles of each discipline and trust the contributions of each to make important clinical decisions.
To further the goal of improving patient safety and quality in health care, three institutions – the Goldfarb School of Nursing at Barnes-Jewish College, St. Louis College of Pharmacy and Washington University School of Medicine – have created the Center for Interprofessional Education (CIPE) at Washington University Medical Center.
The center will enhance the ability of faculty to function as interprofessional educators, advance curricular opportunities of programs within the three schools, conduct educational research into interprofessional education and rapidly enhance patient outcomes.
“Patients receive better care when health-care professionals work as a team,” said Heather Hageman, inaugural director of the CIPE, which brings together students in medicine, pharmacy, nursing, physical therapy, occupational therapy, and audiology and deaf education. “Health-care workers make fewer errors when they collaborate and feel respected by one another.”
Minimizing errors translates into increased patient satisfaction, improved comprehensive care and decreased medical costs, mainly due to fewer unnecessary procedures and shorter hospital stays, according to a research-proven theory supported by the World Health Organization, the National Academy of Medicine and the Prevention Education Resource Center.
“The practice of medicine has changed dramatically over the decades,” said Larry J. Shapiro, MD, executive vice chancellor for medical affairs and dean of the School of Medicine. “Teamwork and open communication among doctors and other health-care providers is essential to ensuring the best care for patients. That’s why it’s so important to train students in this collaborative model of care.”
The CIPE connects existing resources among the three institutions, creates a community for like-minded educators, removes barriers to teaching and learning together, and provides the infrastructure to create and evaluate innovative learning activities. It will be headquartered in the new, state-of-the-art Academic and Research Building on the campus of the St. Louis College of Pharmacy.
“This is an exciting, forward-thinking partnership among our institutions,” said John A. Pieper, PharmD, president of St. Louis College of Pharmacy. “We’re leveraging our shared location in one of the nation’s preeminent biomedical complexes to provide students with unprecedented education, research and practice programs.”
Traditionally, physicians, nurses, pharmacists, and other health-care professionals are trained completely separately. However, they are expected to work as high-functioning teams as they care for a patient, Hageman said. “The CIPE recognizes and respects the important roles and responsibilities of each profession and encourages a more cohesive approach to the health-care team,” Hageman said. “So much of what we do in health care is collaborative.”
A shared learning experience fosters a clear understanding of the unique yet overlapping roles and responsibilities and engenders respect for each team member’s contribution, Hageman said. When each member of the health-care team, including the patient, is empowered to speak up, better health outcomes can be realized.
“In this era of advancing medicine and the multiplicity of provider roles, clinical decision-making requires well-prepared and confident providers from each health discipline,” said Michael Bleich, PhD, RN, president and dean at the Goldfarb School of Nursing at Barnes-Jewish College. “Faculty will be trained in interprofessional approaches to education to strengthen each professional discipline to improve patient outcomes. Great interprofessional education must ensure that each graduate has specific competencies in team dynamics.”
For students, interprofessional learning involves an array of teaching methods ranging from lectures and small groups to simulated and real clinical care experiences. Students also are taking advantage of interactive classrooms and clinical skills labs to facilitate collaboration and teamwork.
“I definitely thought that the CIPE sessions were an incredible experience,” one student wrote in an anonymous review of the fall course. “I learned a lot of ‘real-world’ information about the different health-care fields. I found out how little I actually know about other medical professions.”
The CIPE fosters collaboration across courses from each of the health profession programs. For example, as part of a required learning experience launched this year, about 750 first-year, professional-level students in all three institutions are learning together about each other’s roles and responsibilities within the health-care team while also fostering communication and cooperation with the overarching goal of improving the delivery of health care. During one activity of this experience, teams comprised of students from each education program are tasked with a team-oriented communication exercise around a LEGO-building activity.
“The LEGO-building exercise was definitely different and unexpected,” another student wrote in the course evaluation. “However, the conversation after the activity brought amazing insight to real-world situations of interprofessional interactions. This was mostly focused on the communication – or lack thereof – between professionals in the medical field. The exercise was a great way to symbolize the difficulties of different fields coalescing into one cohesive ‘brain’ to help the patients in the best way possible.”
Accreditors and other external reviewers have placed expectations on the health professions to embrace and lead in interprofessional education, added Bleich, of the nursing school. “For us, this is more than an exercise in attending to role appreciation. It is about how we approach quality and safety. It is about how we work through the patient experience. It is about the quality of decisions that get made with and for the patient who has complex clinical issues in pursuit of balancing and optimizing the quality of life.”
Immediate CIPE goals include cataloging existing interprofessional activities across the three institutions and hosting a late-winter retreat with interested faculty to set vision, mission and goals for the collaborative effort. Long-term, the CIPE intends to conduct and publish interprofessional education research and affect patient outcomes by extending its efforts into the clinical arena.
The CIPE is governed by a steering committee comprised of two representatives from each institution, and each institution contributes one-third of the center’s budget.
“The Center for Interprofessional Education at Washington University Medical Center is a true collaboration,” Hageman said. “If faculty in any of the three institutions are involved in interprofessional education with learners or participate in true interprofessional care teams we want to hear about it.”
Similarly, faculty interested in joining the cross-institution interprofessional education efforts are encouraged to contact Hageman at firstname.lastname@example.org.