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Interprofessional Education at the Anschutz Medical Campus Helps Health Care Teams Communicate

Mark Earnest, MD and Jason Williams, MD


​If you enter a classroom on a Wednesday afternoon this fall, you may encounter this: Ten student teams with students from as many as five health professions wrestling with a clinical case—racing against the clock and each other—to identify all the potential harms that may befall a patient. When the time expires, the teams receive their scores and then reflect on their performance. As individuals and as a team, what did they do well? Where did they go wrong? How can they improve?

Like aviation and other high-risk industries, communication and collaboration failures in health care are the root cause of the majority of adverse events. Health care fails, not because professionals lack technical knowledge, but because they fail to share their knowledge effectively with others engaged in the care of their patients.

Historically, communication curricula for health professionals have focused on provider-patient communication and have typically occurred within professional disciplinary silos. While effective communication between providers and patients is central to ensuring good clinical outcomes, it does not address the challenges posed by interprofessional communication and collaboration that account for so much of the harm. Training to address these types of failures has been largely absent from the education health professionals receive.

The University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus program Realizing Educational Advancement in Collaborative Health (REACH) intends to change that history. Since the fall of 2010, during their first week on campus, all students join an interprofessional team with whom they will work for two years. These student teams go through a curriculum in teamwork and communication that involves experiential learning through team-based exercises. The curriculum is evolving rapidly, guided by human factors research, teamwork training and research in other disciplines, and by input and feedback from participating students and faculty. In the third year, students again work in teams to practice the skills they’ve learned in simulated patient care scenarios at the Center for Advancing Professional Excellence (CAPE).

If the curriculum is successful, the REACH team believes we will have created better communicators and team players who will ultimately ensure the safety, health and well-being of their patients for years to come.