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Can you imagine if healthcare professionals didn’t continue to educate themselves throughout their careers? Tenured individuals would be using dated, and potentially dangerous, methods. Just search the internet for “bizarre medical treatments in history,” and prepare to be amazed at what we once thought were legitimate health practices.

There’s no question that healthcare is a dynamic field that requires professionals to stay up-to-date with the latest skills, research and technologies available. Continuing education (CE) provides opportunities for personal and professional growth, which helps make the best possible healthcare services available across the U.S. and world. Employers often view CE as a main resource to further develop valued skills in their healthcare professionals. While continuing education evolves, (and we’ll explore where it’s headed in this article), its role in serving as a foundational educational resource will remain firmly in place.

“Continuing education for healthcare professionals is part of a lifelong learning strategy essential to maintaining a practitioner’s expertise,” says Robert L. Joyner, Jr., Ph.D., director of the School of Health Sciences at Salisbury University in Maryland. “Everyone seeking out healthcare should have confidence that their provider is engaged with the job, their profession, and has current knowledge of the best interventions and therapies.”

Traditionally, professionals attend in-person meetings, courses and events to earn CE credits — a mode of education that’s likely to continue. But as the healthcare field progresses, so too will the future of CE for healthcare professionals. Let’s take a look at some likely advancements to expect.

1. Online Solutions for CE Likely to Expand in the Next Five Years

Dr. Joyner believes professional meetings will continue to serve the vast majority of CE needs in the foreseeable future, describing such personal interactions as essential for gaining knowledge. However, he also acknowledges that online solutions are likely to grow, providing a more accessible source of continued learning for any credentialed or licensed healthcare professional.

“The expense of attending meetings can be extensive and unrealistic for many types of healthcare providers,” he says. “Increasingly, practitioners are turning to online solutions for their continuing education needs, and I believe that the market will continue to expand as we use technology to connect all parts of our lives, both professionally and personally.”

Online CE programs are showing early success. Often, these programs mimic the interactions that occur between professors and students in-person, which is considered essential.

2. The Importance of Engaged Versus Passive Learning

No matter what role or specialty, most adults learn best when they’re engaged and able to interact with the material. Engaged learning, versus passive learning, is viewed as a best continuing education practice, according to Marilyn Wideman, DNP, academic dean and vice president of the School of Nursing at Purdue University Global.

“Use of experiential and engaged learning can build skills and confidence as well as give the learner the opportunity to apply new knowledge, to learn from their peers, and build greater insights into their own knowledge level and skill sets,” Wideman says.

One example is the use of simulation, which is interactive, builds skills and knowledge, and provides an opportunity for learners to apply what they’ve learned. It can also be used individually or for teams, who may get a chance to participate in team-based case studies. (See “Simulation: Changing the Game of Healthcare Training” for an in-depth look at simulation training in healthcare.)

“Regardless if the content is delivered online or face-to-face, it is the ability to communicate back and forth with questions and answers about the content that is most important,” notes Dr. Joyner. “This includes the need for both the learners and the presenters to be engaged with the material being discussed.”

As hardware and software technologies advance and improve, more solutions, like simulation training, are surfacing that make continuing education more interactive and accessible to healthcare professionals in every field.]

3. A Move Toward Interprofessional Education

CE for healthcare professionals has long been discipline-specific, but today’s healthcare professionals have increasing demands that require a broader knowledge base beyond their specialties. We’ve seen this trend in stacking allied health credentials, and now, an increasing number of healthcare professionals are seeking interprofessional continuing education, allowing them to collaborate with providers from outside of their profession or across specialties. Though interprofessional CE will not replace discipline-specific models, many anticipate that increased usage will ultimately improve patient care.

“The rationale for interprofessional learning includes improving how healthcare teams work together and communicate with each other, enhancing interprofessional collaboration, and ultimately improving patient care outcomes,” explains Dr. Wideman.

Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School recognized the value of interprofessional education in serving the veteran population. Their Warrior-Centric Healthcare Training program brings in resources from multiple disciplines to train health and mental health professionals to care for active duty military patients, veterans and their families. Learners include students in the areas of medicine, nursing, pharmacy, allied health, social work, psychology, rehabilitative medicine and physician assistantship. Based on feedback from the learners, the program became mandatory and has been woven into training earlier on to help them better apply the knowledge they learn throughout their clinical clerkships.

4. Using Personalization in Curriculum and Training

Personalized experiences are everywhereand now, you can even find it in your CE curriculum.

The federal report, Continuing Education, Professional Development and Lifelong Learning for the 21st Century Health Care Workforce recommends not only interprofessional learning activities and flexible learning modalities, but also learner-driven curricula, providing more personalized CE experiences.

“There is still work to be done in the CE world to accomplish impactful personalized CE learning,” Wideman notes, but says on-demand online learning options may help propel CE to meet the individual learner’s needs.“With on-demand [learning], the learner could be choosing to learn what they wantto know versus just what they needto know.”

5. Tactics to Ensure Continuing Education Actually Fills Skill and Knowledge Gaps

Continuing education is often in lieu of other training methods or mentorships and coaching to help healthcare professionals develop skills and keep up with trends. This reliance is often cost-driven, according to Dr. Joyner. He believes CE alone can’t be used for skill development — but when combined with a comprehensive skill development program that includes education and time for practice, discussion, and remediation, it can be quite successful.

“Unfortunately, as a nation, we are increasingly moving healthcare delivery to a business model (profit motivated), and there is recognition that training comes at a cost. Providers can’t care for patients (and therefore generate billing) at the same time they are participating in continuing education,” he says.

Wideman similarly believes CE, in combination with other training, will remain a foundation for the continued development of healthcare professionals after graduation and licensure. “The use of CE, mentoring, and different types of on-the-job training can complement each other and are all important with the dominant modality based on the setting and learning needs.”

Some organizations are using electronic mining of healthcare data to identify problems or needs in patient care — and develop CE opportunities in response. This is one way that CE is being tailored to more effectively fill in gaps in skill and knowledge. Wideman explains:

Use of data within a healthcare organization to inform CE provides real-life and relevant learning with the intent of improving learner knowledge and practice change to impact patient outcomes. Use of data to inform population-focused CE provides opportunities for understanding new or changing health issues in the clinicians’ geographic areas along with an understanding of best practices to address emerging or current health issues. Again, utilizing data aims to produce the best possible healthcare outcomes.

In the years and decades to come, the preferred modalities for CE will adapt to meet the needs of a changing healthcare workforce. Change is always certain, and ultimately the goal and hope moving forward is that healthcare professionals receive the best training and CE possible, so patients receive the best care possible. Even among emerging trends and new technologies for 2019 and beyond, the basic tenets — active engagement, open communication, flexibility and a focus on interprofessional collaboration — will remain.

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