If you think you are completely safe being cared for in a hospital, you need to think again. Medical errors remain one of the leading causes of death in the United States. Most of these errors are caused by human error and are preventable. In fact, these errors are mainly miscommunications between providers on any given patient case. Because patient safety needs to be a priority, we must find ways to rethink how we treat patients.
Due to the challenges in healthcare today, we must demand innovative approaches to practice, and it all starts with our students, the future leaders of the healthcare field. To prepare students in healthcare fields, academic institutions are called to move from conventional teaching modalities to interprofessional education. We must move students out of their own “silos” of education to team-based care. This type of collaborative team-based education empowers students to work together to ultimately improve patient outcomes. It’s called interprofessional education (IPE): the idea that patients benefit most from integrated care that blends the efforts of professionals from various areas — and it needs to be at the forefront of healthcare programs in our schools.
At Eastern Michigan University, IPE has been identified as a priority. Specifically, in the College of Health and Human Services (CHHS), which houses multiple health-related schools, IPE has been promoted through the establishment of the Office for the Advancement of Interprofessional Education, Research and Practice. This office, established following an institutional initiative in 2013, works with both students and faculty to promote interprofessional practice and create opportunities for engagement in collaborative experiences among disciplines. It is led by a steering committee that meets throughout the year to provide structure and a strategic direction for the college.
One of the events CHHS students participate in is the annual large-scale simulation event. According to the article “Technology-Enhanced simulation for health professions education: A systematic review and meta-analysis” by Cook, Hatala & Brydges, et al., 2011, simulation in healthcare can be broadly defined as a “tool, device, and/or environment (that) mimics an aspect of clinical care.”
This event allows students from across nine disciplines to work together in teams to help care for a patient actor. The student teams participate in a scenario in which they collaborate to plan treatment and discharge needs for a case involving complex needs. They discover the benefit of working with other professionals in various healthcare fields who each bring their expertise to the table — providing for greater collaboration across specialties and ultimately, better care for the patient.
For example, in a past simulation event, students were tasked with treating and then developing a discharge plan for a patient who had collapsed at a grandson’s baseball game, potentially from dehydration, and then fallen while using the bathroom in their patient room after being admitted to the hospital. Ultimately, surgery was required, with the students talking to the patient in simulated scenarios before and after surgery.
Before studying their case and associated charts and x-rays, students were reminded of key elements in simulated care, such as the importance of learning from each other and talking to the patient to learn more about their health circumstances.
After the simulations, students voiced a variety of lessons learned, including that talking to the other professionals beforehand was helpful and that it helped them offer a calming presence to the patient.
Students also reported learning from each other. For example, one student noted that the dietetics healthcare professionals involved in the case were able to educate them on the various ways to stay hydrated and avoid dehydration, including eating fruit such as watermelon. Additionally, students learned of the possible need for social work or occupational therapy to become deeply involved after surgery occurs to help ensure resumption of a satisfying life.
As described above, these simulated experiences allow our students to interact and collaborate with students of other disciplines in hopes of transfer to practice — and it does work. Interprofessional hospital teams are the future of healthcare. This collaboration will have a profound impact on improving communication, reducing healthcare costs and boosting patient outcomes.