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How Technology Is Shaping Medical Education of the Future

26 Jun 2015 by Christine Kern

The explosion of new technologies means important changes both in the treatment of patients and in how healthcare providers are trained. The past year saw the development and implementation of a flurry of new tools, including wearable devices, measuring our vital signs at home; 3D printing, producing prosthetics and biomaterials; exoskeletons getting FDA approval; brain-to-brain interfaces; artificial intelligence becoming widely available and many more. These developments are driving significant changes to medical and nursing training.

As Dr. Jeffrey P. Gold said at the Education & Training for HealthCare Transformation Conference, “There is rapidly advancing technology, not only at the bedside, in the operating room and in the clinic, but also in the classroom, and in small group and reflective learning sessions.” Healthcare training and education is implementing more two-dimensional, and even three-dimensional imaging and communications techniques to help healthcare providers visualize the patients’ conditions.

Increasingly, as Dr. Gold pointed out, the use of smartphones, Intelligent Spaces (iSpaces), computer-aided design/computer assisted virtual environment (CAD-CAVES), simulated patients and three-dimensional immersive virtual reality will be imperative tools for learning the craft of healthcare, each helping enhance the safety of healthcare while creating team participation and replacing the “see one, do one, teach one” methodology of past decades.

Healthcare education being transformed by technology

  • One program at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine has adopted a new use for 3D printing: creating model ribcages to provide lifeline simulations to train pediatric surgeons. While most surgical training is carried out in the operating room, pediatric surgery provides some particular challenges because of the miniscule size of their patients.

“The overwhelming majority of surgeons just train in the operating room,” said Dr. Katherine Barsness, associate professor in surgery and medical education at Northwestern. “Everybody has a learning curve when they’re developing new skills, a time when they make mistakes while trying to master a certain technique. Unfortunately, a learning curve places patients at risk.”

In an interview with WGN TV, Barsness explained, “Simulation-based education is very, very new in medical education overall. So during my training, we didn’t really do anything in the simulation lab. We learned by what’s called the classical Halstedian model, which is see one, do one, teach one.” 

  • The NYU School of Medicine also incorporates a number of innovative teaching tools, managed by the Division of Educational Informatics, and driven by the latest technologies in medical education. They include a Virtual Microscope; WISE-MD (Web-based Initiative in Surgical Education), a tool for surgical education that provides a computerized linear narrative of patient illness and patient-physician interaction from the patient's first visit with his or her physician, through the diagnostic process, into the operating room, through the laboratory studies and pathology, and finally to the postoperative visits; and ALEX (Advanced Learning EXchange), a Sakai-based learning management system that serves as a central resource for online medical education content and computer-based learning activities.
  • Navy Medicine launched a new innovative app, "Anatomy Study Guide App - America's Navy," available for free in the App Store and Google Play Store. The app serves as an educational and recruitment tool, says Commander Bradley Kluegel, director of the medical programs division, which supports medical officer recruiting efforts. The Navy’s hope is that the app will help bring the U.S. Navy to the forefront of potential medical career paths.

From apps and 3D printing, to virtual reality training and telemedicine, it’s an exciting time to be in healthcare education. And it’s only the beginning. According to an article in FierceHealthIT, in the next three years the healthcare industry will have to focus as much on training machines as on training people, according to a new report from Accenture. The industry will need to focus on using algorithms, intelligent software and machine learning as well as human workforce training.

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