Interprofessional teamwork: From education to practice

March 15, 2011

Until recently, none of our education systems has been preparing healthcare professionals for teamwork. That is beginning to change. While more remains to be done, we must look to a future characterized by high-functioning interprofessional teams in all practice settings.

Key Points

When it works

We see interprofessional teams come together when pandemics or epidemics place sudden and intense demands on health systems, or natural disasters and humanitarian crises bring health professionals together in relief efforts.

Wilson, et al, described high-reliability teams in healthcare, citing surgical teams, emergency room teams, and emergency response teams [Qual Saf Health Care. 2005;14:303]. Again, there is a shared situation awareness, a free flow of information, and a common goal. If those are the elements of high-functioning teams, why don't we see examples in all practice settings?

Then and now

In 1972, the Councils of the Institute of Medicine (IOM) and the National Academy of Sciences sponsored a conference on the Interrelationships of Educational Programs for Health Professions. One hundred twenty leaders were invited, representing medicine, dentistry, nursing, pharmacy, and allied health.

The introduction of the conference report began: "Few subjects are more appropriate for consideration by the Institute of Medicine than the one of interprofessional education."

Nearly 40 years later there is still a need for curricula that will prepare a collaborative practice-ready healthcare workforce.

It has been suggested that team interactions often fall short of expectations because medical education emphasizes hierarchy and the importance of assuming individual responsibility for decision-making. An emphasis on personal accountability comes at the price of losing valuable contributions from other qualified providers.

In truth, until recently none of our education systems has been preparing healthcare professionals for teamwork. Thanks to the strong messages in Crossing the Quality Chasm (IOM 2001) and Health Professions Education: A Bridge to Quality (IOM 2003) the world of health-professions education has taken notice. A recent comparison of education accreditation standards for health professions found that many disciplines now have standards related to interprofessional communication and interdisciplinary collaboration.

Learn together, work together

To demonstrate their commitment to team-based care, 6 participating associations have convened an expert panel to produce a report on Core Competencies for Interprofessional Collaborative Practice.

Participating organizations include the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine, American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy, American Dental Education Association, Association of American Medical Colleges, and Association of Schools of Public Health.

Through such efforts, it is hoped, our health disciplines will be compelled to "learn together to work together for better health" (WHO 2010).

There is no reason that we can't have a future with high-functioning interprofessional teams in all practice settings.

Daniel Robinson, PharmD, FASHP, is dean of the College of Pharmacy, Western University of Health Sciences, in Pomona, Calif.

The opinions expressed by guest editorial writers are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Drug Topics' staff or the staff of Advanstar.