The reflection on which competencies should be taught and developed is still going on, but a consensus exists that an important type of competency needed by all health professionals is the capacity to collaborate across professional boundaries. Traditionally, the education of the various categories of professionals has been conducted in silos, each group developing its own set of competencies within a culture of ownership of a specific area of work. In today’s health environment, teamwork is increasingly the model for care delivery, where boundaries need to be expanded and inter-professional education considered as a step towards that collaborative practice model of care. Inter-professional education is the process by which students from different professional programmes learn together during certain periods of their education with a view to enhancing collaboration and team work, and ultimately improving patient-centred care. Inter-professional education aims to ensure that all members of the health team understand each other’s roles, core competencies, basic language and mind-sets, and that they develop attitudes and behaviours that facilitate collaboration. Although these objectives are obviously appropriate, there remains a need for further research evidence on the effectiveness of inter-professional education in improving collaboration and patient care outcomes. Initial research studies reveal that IPE increases confidence in health professionals’ identity and appreciation of the roles of other professions, and improves communication and team-working skills.
Another innovative teaching and learning strategy considered for IPE is e-learning. The richness of e-learning is that it can be used in both high-income and resource-constrained countries and can also be a tool for inter-professional education, particularly if it is delivered in an open access environment. Several studies have demonstrated an overall positive effect of e-learning or blended learning courses compared to the more traditional didactic teaching, in the acquisition and retention of knowledge. Another advantage to be considered for e-learning is that it is accessible by health professionals working in remote areas whereby they can continue developing their competencies through such means as a versatile distance education. Because of its role in alleviating professional isolation, distance learning can be a component of a strategy to retain health workers in rural and remote areas. However, not all competencies can be developed without some interaction with trainers or peers; the utilization of blended and even traditional strategies should be considered in such case.
Some health professional programs incorporating inter-professional learning experiences are being developed using a community-based learning approach, so that not all experiences are limited to institutional formal hospital settings.