SMU eNews

Interprofessional Practice to Guide the Future of U.S. Healthcare and SMU Education

With studies showing that better teamwork among medical professionals enhances the quality and safety of healthcare, the new Affordable Care Act requires greater use of interprofessional practice. Faculty experts say Samuel Merritt University (SMU) is well poised to put the interdisciplinary approach into action among its programs.

“All of the models of healthcare reform are calling for team collaboration in the delivery of care,” said SMU Nursing Professor Karen Wolf. “Samuel Merritt University has a wonderful opportunity because we have multiple healthcare professions here and can put our students into teams to learn skills to be more effective in patient-centered care.”

Wolf has been passionate about interprofessional practice for much of her career. She spent the past four years as chair of the Nursing Academy of the National Academies of Practice (NAP), an organization dedicated to affordable, accessible, coordinated quality healthcare for all. NAP represents 10 different professions and informs public policy under the guiding principle that healthcare practice with an interprofessional foundation provides better care.

SMU is exploring ways to incorporate interprofessional education in its culture and curriculum. In his new role as assistant academic vice president, Dr. Terry Nordstrom is spearheading the SMU initiative, and has convened a steering committee of representatives from all university programs plus enrollment and student services to develop a vision and implement opportunities for interdisciplinary cooperation.

“I intentionally chose faculty members with expertise in interprofessional practice who bring energy, excitement and commitment to it,” said Nordstrom.

Soon, Nordstrom said, the team approach might be achieved through pilot projects in the Simulation Center or the creation of a Grand Rounds program, where a member of one discipline presents a patient’s case to other health professionals. Over the longer term, students would be encouraged to practice collaboration in the classroom, during clinical experiences and in community service learning projects.

“In terms of accountability, patient outcomes and the elimination of errors, it is incumbent on us to practice healthcare in an interprofessional way,” said Nordstrom. “Therefore our students have to learn to do that.”

Last month, Professor Wolf led a conversation about the interprofessional model of care — titled “Learning to Play Better in the Healthcare Sandbox” — as part of the Community learning Series.  She asked participants from SMU’s various programs to write down their perceptions of each other’s professions, an exercise that revealed a larger problem in the U.S. healthcare system: most healthcare workers don’t have a clear understanding of what each other does.

“It's hard to play together if you don't know what each profession does and what they contribute to patient care," said Wolf.

Professionals from different disciplines often work together but make independent decisions about patient care.  

“In this historically physician-led system, there’s been a lot of egoism around sharing power,” Wolf said.  “Meanwhile, research has shown that 80 percent or more of errors occur because of miscommunication and lack of collaboration.”

Beginning in 1996, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) began issuing a series of reports demonstrating that team cooperation based on mutual respect and understanding leads to improved safety, patient outcomes and cost savings.

Wolf, a representative to the IOM Global Health Professions Education, said there is growing overlap among medical professions, particularly in the management of chronic diseases. For instance, a diabetic patient often requires the services of a physical therapist, a podiatrist, an optometrist, a nurse practitioner and a physician.

In early April, Wolf is chairing NAP’s annual forum on “Interprofessional Healthcare: Working Together for Healthy Aging” in Alexandria, VA.
“It takes a team to care for elders and people with complex conditions,” said Wolf.

Dr. Terry Nordstrom
Dr. Terry Nordstrom
Dr. Karen Wolf
Dr. Karen Wolf