A Perspective on Joint Accreditation for Interprofessional Continuing Education (IPCE)

The Journey, Critical Areas of Consideration and Surprises Along the Way 

By Sally O'Neill, PhD

It was 2009 and conversations had begun regarding whether becoming jointly accredited would be positive for the continuing education (CE) program at my university. As the then Associate Dean of Continuing Medical Education (CME), I had heard there was an accreditation that would be available in the future that involved one accreditation for these accreditations: Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education (ACCME), Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education (ACPE) and American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) instead of separate accreditations for each as we presently had. Wow! Who wouldn’t want to go for this? This seemed like a no brainer, but I would learn that it would not be as easy as it seemed.

Evaluating the possibility of becoming jointly accredited became our mission. In our particular situation, we were coming up for ACCME re-accreditation, we were working with an ANCC accreditor outside the University and our pharmacy program had a tri-state arrangement for ACPE credit. This was a complex patchwork quilt that did not promote team planning. The stars were aligning for us to look seriously at Joint Accreditation and how it could benefit our organization. The medical school, the pharmacy school and the nursing school identified key faculty and staff to look into applying for Joint Accreditation.

Some of the issues that came up included:

  • Break down the silos between the schools and their need to protect their turf
  • Costs of Joint Accreditation (and how those expenses were going to be paid)
  • By whom and how would a jointly accredited program be managed administratively
  • What were the benefits and negatives of being jointly accredited.

To answer these questions, it was decided that the CME Division was the area with the largest program and with the best systems in place for managing Joint Accreditation. Thus, my role would be the leader or “champion” of the process. 

Important to the process was that all schools would be equally involved in the planning and development of the application. An analysis of costs involved in Joint Accreditation was completed, and it was discovered that overall costs of Joint Accreditation would actually be less when considering individual accreditation staffing and reporting. The cost analysis was a crucial component of this process. Another important component was the listing of benefits and negatives developed and reviewed with the deans/faculty of each of the health sciences schools.  We ultimately decided that the benefits outweighed the negatives. 

Having worked through these issues, and finding all were on board to go forward, the application was started in 2009. An Advisory Committee made up of the deans/faculty of each school began working on the application starting with the Mission Statement and working through its completion. 

Many interesting discussions were held, and important decisions were hammered out during the time of completing the application. Much growth and an appreciation for interprofessional CE activities was realized by each health sciences area. 

Key decisions included:

  • Joint Accreditation would be managed by the Health Sciences Continuing Education Division (formerly the CME Division)
  • Advice for CE activities would be provided by the Health Sciences Continuing Education Advisory Committee. This committee was made up of faculty from each health sciences school (medicine, nursing, pharmacy, OT, PT, dentistry) and replaced the former CME Division’s Advisory Committee.
  • Chairmanship of the Committee rotated annually to faculty from each school.
  • A new organizational chart was developed with the Associate Dean of CME becoming a Vice President and later an Associate Vice Provost of Health Sciences Continuing Education.

Culture of the organization:  Fortunately, over the years, as Associate Dean of CME, I had worked with faculty from all the health sciences schools and had developed a positive working and a trusting culture, recognizing the importance of each school and the role they played in the team approach to patient care, and the importance of IPCE to accomplish our goals of improved patient care and outcomes. This culture is a crucial component for anyone wishing to become jointly accredited.

A recent article by, Kate Regnier, ACCMEKathy Chappell, ANCC; and Dimitra V. Travlos, ACPE (2019) titled, “The Role and Rise of Interprofessional Continuing Education,” which appeared in the Journal of Medical Regulation in October 2019, addressed among other things the importance of IPCE. The article states, “There is evidence supporting the relationship between engagement in IPCE and improvements in health care professionals' knowledge, attitudes, competence and performance, as well as patient and system outcomes”.   

After spending one year on our application, it was submitted. In 2011, we were awarded Joint Accreditation, the very first university to become jointly accredited. We were so excited and many positive things began to happen as a result. After becoming jointly accredited, I was invited to speak at various meetings to explain the processes used and the pros and cons of Joint Accreditation. It was great sharing this story, but at the same time surprising. Surprising in the fact that several organizations could not see the benefits of Joint Accreditation that promotes a team approach to healthcare; furthermore, they did not understand Joint Accreditation. Many in the medical school settings were not able to overcome the silos that existed in their organization and lacked a culture to promote a team approach to CE. As time went on, this slowly began to change and today there are approximately 89 organizations that have become jointly accredited or are applying for Joint Accreditation, approximately 19 of which are medical schools.

One more thought, it is important to know that once your organization earns Joint Accreditation, your job as a champion has just begun. Maintaining Joint Accreditation is important but maintaining means not only meeting the requirements of Joint Accreditation but also maintaining those trusting and positive working relationships that are key to ongoing success.  In a medical school, when the deans and/or faculty change, it is necessary to develop an appreciation for interprofessional CE with each as they come on board. It is an ongoing process. This would be true in any organization.

Below is a list of some of the benefits of Joint Accreditation.

  1. A team approach to healthcare with all areas involved in the planning and development of CE activities. This enriches the entire process and outcome.
  2. Streamlined planning: Universal forms for planning, CE credit applications, disclosures, evaluations, streamlined annual reporting. These forms make the planning and implementation of CE activities more efficient and effective for development and administration of CE activities and ultimately the care of patients.
  3. Recognition of the organization for their culture of teamwork and joint accreditation status.
  4. At this time Joint Accreditation for Interprofessional Continuing Education is a collaboration of the following accreditation groups, which means even more efficiency in providing CE credits to various groups.
    1. Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education (ACCME)
    2. Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education (ACPE)
    3. American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC)
    4. American Academy of PAs (AAPA)
    5. American Psychological Association (APA)
    6. Association of Regulatory Boards of Optometry’s Council on Optometric Practitioner Education (ARBO/COPE)
    7. Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB)
    8. Most recently, American Dental Association (ADA)
  5. Joint Sponsorship opportunities that can be a source of revenue.

In summary, becoming jointly accredited can be positive for an organization when:

  • The culture of the organization is open to interprofessional CE and a team approach to healthcare that involves all areas equally in the planning, developing and implementing activities designed to improve healthcare is the agreed upon by all areas.
  • The issues identified above in this article have been addressed and resolved.
  • A champion is identified as the key changemaker who can work with various groups, establish trust with groups and maintain positive working relationships, is knowledgeable of accreditation requirements, and can effectively communicate these to others involved in CE and administration.
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