A collaborative approach to healthcare

18 December 2018

Globally, the healthcare system is under increasing pressure due to rising health issues, increased healthcare costs and shortages of healthcare professionals.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has identified interprofessional collaboration in education and practice as an innovative strategy that plays an important role in mitigating some of these challenges.

Interprofessional education (IPE) is when students from two or more professions in health and social care learn together in their professional training to cultivate collaborative practice to provide patient-centred care. UQ’s Faculty of Health and Behavioural Sciences Associate Dean (Academic) Professor Sarah Roberts-Thomson is leading the implementation of interprofessional education and practice at UQ.

“Embedding in our students an understanding and appreciation of the value of interprofessional practice is fundamental to educating the next generation of health leaders.

"At UQ, we are lucky to have the largest offering of health courses in Queensland, which provides the opportunity for students to work collaboratively with over 20 health disciplines including physiotherapy, nursing, clinical exercise physiology, dental science, pharmacy and psychology,” Professor Roberts-Thomson said.

As a concept, interprofessional practice (IPP) is introduced to all health students in their first year via core course, ‘HLTH1000 – Professions, People and Healthcare’. The course is offered using a ‘flipped format’ so students independently engage with online learning resources and meet face-to-face with peers and teaching staff in weekly tutorials that are purposely structured to enable students from different professional backgrounds to learn together.

Course Coordinator Dr Norman Ng said the collaborative format encourages conversations about what students learn in their programs and what their roles as future health professionals will entail.

“In its second iteration, the feedback we have had on HLTH1000 has been overwhelmingly positive from both students and teaching staff. Tutors have said the course is by far one of the most interesting for them to teach and facilitate.

I personally agree and have gained so much from the rich discussions within the classroom and also within my weekly tutorial preparation meetings,” Dr Ng said.

“We role model IPP as much as we can as a teaching team. With 24 other tutors from a diverse range of clinical fields and backgrounds, everyone brings something valuable to the team each time we meet.”

Health students continue to build on their IPP knowledge and experience during their subsequent years in their placement and with practical opportunities such as the HealthFusion Team Challenge. This competitive and collaborative learning experience requires students to work together across multi-professional teams to solve problems on a complex patient care case.

“UQ is currently the four-time successive national titleholder of the challenge! Past competitors have found the experience equipped them with what’s required to work in multi-professional teams to solve problems collaboratively when on placements and when they enter the health workforce,” Professor Roberts-Thomson said.

For an interprofessional education and practice model to really make a difference to health outcomes, Professor Roberts-Thomson emphasised the importance of university partnerships with hospitals and health partners.

“We recognised early on that we needed the expertise of global leaders in interprofessional education to assist in the development at UQ, so we partnered with the University of Toronto’s Centre for Interprofessional Education. The Centre’s academic team was engaged to conduct workshops for academics and clinical leaders from local hospitals,” Professor Roberts-Thomson said.

“These workshops sparked interest within our local hospitals to establish a partnership to further develop IPE and IPP. A group of 14 academics and clinicians travelled to Toronto earlier this year to attend internationally recognised course ‘Advancing the Future of Healthcare Through Interprofessional Learning’.

“The group now meets and communicates regularly to talk about interprofessional education and practice. Ideas for new IPE activities have been tabled that will eventuate into innovative experiences for our students.”

A major pillar of the IPE strategy at UQ is to strengthen the IPP knowledge and skills within the Faculty in hospital partners. Adjunct Associate Professor Lynne Sinclair, from the Centre for Interprofessional Education, spent several months in Brisbane in early 2018 visiting with academic and clinical partners and providing customised workshops and strategic advice. Then in late November, the Faculty once again hosted the Centre for Interprofessional Education to facilitate three workshops in Brisbane, Toowoomba and Roma to provide education to numerous other academics and clinicians.

Another significant partnership that was recently formed was with Metro North Hospital and Health Service (MNHHS) to trial a placement for students to experience IPP at an MNHHS site. The trial will begin in Semester 1 of 2019.

With IPE initiatives rapidly gaining momentum, an academic Director for Interprofessional Education was appointed to the faculty and will begin in January 2019.

“Associate Professor Neil Cottrell brings a wealth of valuable experience and knowledge to the role. His vision to lead and nurture current and future IPE initiatives will strengthen UQ’s role in equipping students with a solid grounding in IPP,” Professor Roberts-Thomson said.

UQ’s Associate Professor Cottrell worked as a clinical pharmacist in hospitals in the UK and Australia where he led the development of clinical pharmacy services and participated in a number of multidisciplinary teams, and more recently he led the curriculum design, implementation and evaluation of the IPE curriculum at the UQ Greenslopes Clinical School.

“My aim is to implement a series of IPE learning activities that graduating students can have in their ePortfolio mapped to IPE competencies (including role clarification, team functioning, value and ethics, conflict resolution and collaborative leadership) with clear links into the students’ home programs. In parallel with these activities, I would like to see a suite of training programs for IPE facilitation within UQ and at placement sites so that we build capacity in our IPE teachers,” Associate Professor Cottrell said.

Currently in Australia there are pockets of successful interprofessional practice models in areas like rehabilitation but they aren’t widespread. With over 20 disciplines in the Faculty, UQ health students will have the confidence to collaborate with health professionals across the spectrum, to succeed as effective team members, break down barriers and lead interprofessional healthcare teams to ultimately help transform patient care globally.

Words: Kirsten O’Leary