More interprofessional collaboration for better health
Nurses, occupational therapists, midwives and medical practitioners… the health professions are very diverse, and often they do not use the same language. Some terms are used by everyone but have a different meaning depending on which professional group is using them. To change this, we need better interprofessional collaboration – and the Interprofessional Teaching and Practice Unit at the School of Health Professions of the Zurich University of Applied Sciences (ZHAW) in Winterthur has been advocating for this for many years on a national as well as an international level. The ZHAW is part of the German-language network of members of the Global Confederation for Interprofessional Education and Collaborative Practice, and it hosted the Winterthur Interprofessional.Global Symposium from 9 to 12 November 2021.
Sharing knowledge and experience
For four days, 27 representatives from 17 countries belonging to 10 different networks of Interprofessional.Global discussed how interprofessional collaboration and education in healthcare and social services can be fostered worldwide to ensure better health for everyone. The five working groups Evaluation, Global Impact, Partnership Development, Capacity Building and Communication were established, a strategic plan was developed and action steps for the next two years were defined. These Interprofessional.Global Facilitation teams plan to share knowledge, experiences and approaches and provide mutual support on a regular basis. “By learning together, we can improve collaboration and create the changes necessary to enhance the quality of healthcare and ensure the safety of patients”, says Marion Huber, deputy head of the Interprofessional Teaching and Practice Unit at the ZHAW.
The participants also focused on elaborating and refining the contents of a future “Winterthur Declaration”. The purpose of the declaration is to “build on the considerable efforts that have been made in the last ten years to foster interprofessional education and collaborative practice” and to replace the “Sydney Interprofessional Declaration” of April 2010. “The articles in the Winterthur Declaration address the measures which are necessary to uphold these achievements and to keep building on them for the next decade”, says Huber. The Winterthur Declaration is meant to be adopted within the coming year.
A sign of appreciation
Marion Huber and her institute colleagues brought the symposium to Switzerland, and it was a great success for the university and for Winterthur, not least because renowned experts such as the Canadian professor John Gilbert were among the participants. Gilbert played a significant role in establishing interprofessional collaboration across the globe with the “All together better health” movement. “This symposium is also a sign of appreciation for us, as we have been doing research and teaching activities on interprofessionality for years”, says Huber. Organising the international meeting, however, was not easy in times of the Covid-19 pandemic: “Due to the varying rules in different countries, we were not sure until right before the start of the symposium whether all those who registered would be able to take part”, she says. In the end, two people were not able to travel to Switzerland.
The participants appreciated the opportunity for face-to-face interactions. “It was a good decision to carry out the conference in person despite the pandemic”, said Andreas Xyrichis from the United Kingdom. “We achieved quite a lot as a group in the last few days, and it will help us bring interprofessional collaboration and education worldwide another step forward”, he said. Alla El-Awaisi, who had travelled to Winterthur from Qatar, felt positive about the event too. “It gave us the opportunity to highlight what has been going well within the network and where the challenges lie”, she said. And the goal is to tackle these challenges together.
“We still have lots of work to do”
Short interview with John Gilbert
John Gilbert played a significant role in establishing interprofessional collaboration in healthcare and social services. The professor emeritus at the University of British Columbia, Canada explains why interprofessional collaboration is more important now than ever.
John Gilbert, how do you feel about the outcome of this symposium?
John Gilbert: I am very pleased. I have been dealing with interprofessional collaboration for a long time, and when I look back on the last five to ten years, I can see that steady advancements have been made. At this meeting we were able to continue going down this path. The participants were very open and passionate, which his very helpful when you want to move forward together. Organising the meeting was a challenge due to the Covid-19 pandemic, because it was difficult for some of the participants to travel to another country. The organisers did a very good job in that regard. Winterthur is an interesting town and the ZHAW with its Institute of Health Sciences is an inspiring place with lots of fresh ideas. I am thrilled.
Why is interprofessional collaboration and education so important in healthcare?
Gilbert: Nowadays there are more than 80 different professions in healthcare and social services. Each person is an expert at their job and naturally wants only the best for their patients. But it means not just that patients and their relatives need to understand what physicians, nurses and social workers are talking about, but so do the various professional groups between themselves. If they do not, this may lead to misunderstandings and redundancy, which can result in terrible mistakes in the treatment of patients. To ensure patient safety, it is therefore important that the various professional groups in the healthcare and social services systems work together and communicate clearly. The goal has to be best-quality care.
What has changed in interprofessional collaboration since the “Sydney Interprofessional Declaration” of 2010?
Gilbert: We now understand many things much better, not least because we have a lot more data and information. The new declaration is not finished yet; we are still working on it. But it will be a clear statement about interprofessional collaboration that we will be able to work with for at least the next ten years. It will not mean we are all done – there is still lots of work to do in the future. The biggest challenge will be to ensure that what we laid down in the declaration can work in other countries and regions, for example in South Africa or Asia.
What impact has the pandemic had on education in the health professions?
Gilbert: The greatest impact of Covid-19 has been the technological progress. It is unbelievable how quickly students and teachers have got used to online teaching and how fast technology has advanced during this time. At my own university in Canada, I have been impressed at how easily patients were able to be involved in online teaching. That was fantastic. There is a lot of potential for interprofessional collaboration here.
John Gilbert has been a ground-breaking leader in the education of health professionals in British Columbia, Canada and internationally. Early in his career, he did pioneering work in linguistics and psychology as the basis of practice for speech pathologists and audiologists. In the latter part of his career, his vision and leadership led to the development of the concept of interprofessional education as a key principle of team-based, collaborative and patient-centred practice and care. These concepts are now part of health sciences education at universities, colleges and institutes in many places across Canada and the globe.