Interprofessional education and practice: Some reflections on the future

By | 28th September 2017

During my 20+ year engagement in the interprofessional field – predominately as a researcher, but also as a teacher, faculty developer, journal editor and learner – I have witnessed a steady year-on-year growth of interprofessional education and practice activities – across the globe. Encouragingly, during this period, I have seen colleagues develop and implement a range of innovative interprofessional activities (e.g. new forms of online learning and team-based simulation). There has also been a growth of novel approaches to define and measure the outcomes from interprofessional activities (e.g. collaborative competency frameworks, rigorous assessment tools). However, I do think our progress with interprofessional education and practice has been made more problematic due to the following three issues:

1. We continue to focus our research efforts on gathering self-report insights of learner’s short-term experiences which limits our ability to understand the longer-term effects of an interprofessional activity. Indeed, the interprofessional evidence base is also restricted by other trends – we tend to undertake our research/evaluation work in isolation from our colleagues so we continue to produce small single-site studies. As result of this isolation there tends to be a duplication of empirical work.

2. We continue to overlook the use of theory in our interprofessional work. Theories can help provide rich and detailed insights that illuminate/understand/explain why underlying phenomena occur (e.g. how/why power and status operate in an interprofessional environment) which are not necessarily visible in our everyday lives. Without further engagement with theory, we will continue to generate partial accounts of the complex social, clinical and educational world.

3. There continues to be an ongoing uncertainty about our conceptualisation of terminology in the interprofessional field. While there is now a shared agreement with the use of ‘interprofessional education’ (see CAIPE, 2002), there is far less agreement about the use of other related terms such as ‘interprofessional teamwork’ and ‘multidisciplinary teamwork’. These terms are employed with some variation in the literature, which in turn generates a range of differing assumptions and beliefs. Unfortunately, such problems with conceptualisation undermines how we actually measure the impact of interprofessional activities – limiting the quality of the interprofessional evidence base.

In thinking about the future of the interprofessional education and practice field I would argue that we need to work towards addressing these limitations. In doing so, I see three ways forward. First, empirically, we should move beyond short-term learner outcomes to also gather perspectives from clinicians, educators, patients/families over longer periods – to gather a clearer accounts of the wider impacts of interprofessional activities. Secondly, we should also look for opportunities to develop multi-sited studies where we can synthesis evidence to generate better inferences from our data sets. Finally and theoretically, we need to begin identifying and drawing upon the theoretical work from the sociology, organisational, education, and psychological literature to produce a more insightful and generalizable understanding of the underlying issues that affect interprofessional education and practice