The case for integrating telemedicine education into medical curriculums

As telehealth consultations and other remote-care capabilities continue to spread throughout healthcare, these technologies are more and more likely to play a significant role in regular care delivery for tomorrow’s doctors, nurses, pharmacists and other healthcare staff.

Medical students aren’t the only ones who could benefit from guided exposure to telehealth tools and best practices. In a recent HIMSS Digital presentation, Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) professors explained that these educational programs can be integrated into a range of healthcare curriculums and colleges, and can benefit everyone from undergraduates to practicing medical providers.

“Telehealth is definitely an evolving area of science and application,” Ragan Dubose-Morris, associate professor and director of the Center for Telehealth at MUSC, said during the webinar. “It is important that the education domain keep up with that, not only to help inform current practice, but also to inform providers where they can get updated information for future practice. So there’s a baseline of continuing education that we know we need to instill for those providers.”

These types of programs have been part of the clinical, research and administrative-services ecosystems for well over a decade, Dubose-Morris said. The programs within MUSC have been embedded within a handful of different educational facilities – such as its College of Nursing, its College of Pharmacy, College of Dental Medicine and others – and comprise of a handful of education modalities. Some of these include in-person roundtables, demos and facility tours; “synchronous” remote-education through videoconferences and case presentations; and “asynchronous” materials like recorded educational programs, online education modules and even mobile app-based content.

The variety of available modalities and resources provides some flexibility to programs looking to incorporate telehealth content. It can also help to manage the initial investment an organization needs to commit when it’s looking to train its staff or students.

“It’s really a low-stakes investment when you think about education,” Dubose-Morris said. “There’s quite a few platforms and programs that allow you to share information between providers and with patients in ways that are value-added, and can also reduce overall healthcare expenditures.”

Those enrolled in the integrated-telehealth curriculums also see the value in these courses, Dubose-Morris continued. In a survey of 45 MUSC telehealth program participants from the last five years, roughly 86% considered their ability to utilize telehealth as part of their current or future practice to be above average or better, compared to about 12% prior to enrollment. They reported similar changes in their confidence for other related areas of personal telehealth expertise, such as their ability to explain the use of multiple telehealth tools to their peers.

“When they start from a pre-test assessment to a post-test assessment, we are definitely seeing significant knowledge gain, clear growth, and they’re confident,” she said. “They really do start off at a level of non-inclusive or limited information, and at the end of the semesters they are mostly greater than the average healthcare provider in being able to understand telehealth. They gain comfort demonstrating and explaining the tools of telehealth.”

The curriculum participants’ open-ended responses to the survey also suggested takeaways from the program beyond their technical skills with the technologies. For instance, Dubose-Morris highlighted responses in which participants said that the focus on remote consultation technologies increased their awareness in cross-disciplinary or cross-practice collaboration, while others said that it increased their awareness of new career opportunities.

“It looks to me that one of the biggest areas of learning from the individual students has been that ongoing learning: How can they learn from each other, and how can they improve their knowledge and ability?” Dubose-Morris said. “They’re really thinking about, from a reflective perspective, what they learned, but [also] how they are going to take this forward. They really see value in connecting patients and healthcare members in sort of an encircled ring of care. This is something that allows for a collaborative and realistically practiced activity to occur.”

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