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Interprofessional Health Care Education Means Better Patient Care

“Interprofessionalism” is the term for two or more health professions working together to provide better patient care. It’s a new vision for health professionals. The Institute of Medicine says, “All health professionals should be educated to deliver patient-centered care as members of an interdisciplinary team, emphasizing evidence-based practice, quality improvement approaches, and informatics.” Many healthcare professionals are excited about the possibilities created by collaborating more closely. Patients will also benefit from interprofessionalism, which promises better coordinated and more effective care as well as potential reductions in costs and mistakes.

Interprofessionalism is a significant change from the traditional delivery of healthcare in the United States. Think of the old-timey images of a doctor seeing patients in his own office, or a doctor being roused from bed at night to go to a sick patient’s home. How much of that has changed? Almost all of it.

Changes in healthcare such as scientific and technical advances have fostered interprofessionalism.  There has also been a realization that patients benefit from teams that mutually respect one another, effectively communicate, collaborate together and coordinate patient care. For a long time, each part of the body was treated by specialists. Eyes? An ophthalmologist or optometrist. Teeth? A dentist or dental hygienist. Feet? A podiatrist, or perhaps an orthopedist. Now we know many health conditions come from a variety of causes, affect several body systems, or both. People no longer have “just” a  skin problem or “only” a need for a prescription—health professionals  are aware they all must work together to provide the best possible care for a single patient.

As you prepare for a health care career, interprofessionalism will play a part in your education. You may take classes or work in a lab with students and teachers of other health professions. You may deliver care side-by-side with them in a clinic or the community. As interprofessionalism evolves, specific techniques and goals for participating as an effective team member will be incorporated into your experience. It’s likely that when you complete your education, you’ll have more knowledge about and appreciation for the work of other health professionals .

If you would like interprofessionalism to be an important part of your healthcare educational experience, be sure to ask the institutions and programs you are considering about its role in their curricula.

For more information about how interprofessional education, see the World Health Organization’s 2010 report “Framework for Action on Interprofessional Education and Collaborative Practice.”

This article was written by Merideth Menken, Senior Director for Publications and Communications at the American Dental Education Association.