Educational input and patient outcomes: exploring the gap
Over the last two decades, the health care professions in the United Kingdom have seen an unparalleled expansion of continuing professional education (CPE) and development (CPD) programmes; however, there is little empirical evidence that these enhance the care delivered to patients. Further research is also needed to demonstrate that these initiatives are linked to improved patient outcomes. If health care educators are to move towards an ‘evidence-based curriculum’, some restructuring of courses may be needed. Priorities should be set and decisions made, based on the results of reliable and valid research into the clinical outcomes of CPE. To evaluate courses and demonstrate educational effectiveness solely in terms of student satisfaction is not enough; to survive in the world of evidence-based care, educators must also demonstrate their contribution to clinical effectiveness. However, the neoteric field of impact evaluation lacks not only validated research methods, but also an agreed agenda for future research. Drawing on interviews undertaken with nurses who have participated in education evaluations and the relevant literature, this paper discusses the available data collection instruments and the development of viable research designs and methods, which are urgently needed to assess the outcomes of professional education programmes.