Med School 2.0

March 4, 2011
Dominic King

Med school now combines state of the art technology with ages of medicine for a whole new innovative educational experience.

Years ago, a few thousand sheets of loose leaf paper, several pens, and a stack of medical books were the arsenal of choice when it came to medical education. Add in about 80,000 hours of lecture and study, several days of board examinations, and a countless number of lost nights of sleep . . . and you have a doctor. Today, however, advances in computers and technology have completely changed medical education. The 80,000 hours of lecture and study, several days of board examinations, and countless nights of lost sleep are still there, but the approach is entirely different. Notebooks and pens have been replaced by laptop computers, smartphones, and tablets, and the stack of medical books has now been converted over into eBooks. These technological advancements may seem “flashy” and “in style,” but they serve a very valuable purpose.

Understanding the wealth of medical information in medical school has been described as trying to take a drink of water out of a fire hose. Converting all of this information into a digital format and compiling it into a useful interface has offered the new class of medical students opportunities not even imaginable 10 years ago. Let me take you through some of these advancements.

1. Laptops/Tablets/Smartphones:

Laptops are ubiquitous on college campuses, and medical school campuses are no different. All medical students use laptops, tablets, and smartphones to access daily lectures, read electronic medical texts, take notes, and attend electronic study sessions with other students and faculty members. Smartphones have become especially useful for medical students with the advent of medical applications for study, research, and diagnosis. A laptop is a necessity for a medical student. In fact, the entire application process for medical school and residency is now fully electronic and mediated through websites and e-mail. For this reason, most medical schools provide a laptop to incoming students and offer reimbursement for the student’s smartphone of choice.

2. Fully recorded audio/video lectures:

Depending on the school, every lecture, including questions asked by students, is digitally audio and/or video recorded and uploaded to a database that students can access later. This results in students spending less time in class trying to write down every single word of a presentation, and instead paying attention to the presenter and the lecture. Lectures can even be streamed live for those students who are on their rotations away from campus. Of course, because of the accessibility, this has resulted in schools having a requirement of a minimum number of lectures attended, so there is always an audience for the presenters.

3. SimMan:

Probably one of the most “fun to use” tools in medical school is the robot simulator SimMan. With the use of computer software, instructors can simulate a wide variety of medical complaints and complications. The simulators have breath sounds, heart sounds, peripheral pulses, pupillary reactions to light, IV access that can determine what medication was given, and many other features. Being able to simulate different scenarios under controlled conditions allows students an invaluable resource for practicing their clinical skills.

4. Digitally recorded patient encounters:

Standardized patient encounter rooms are outfitted with high definition audio and video recording tools for faculty clinicians to observe students as they work with both robots and standardized patients. From a remote control room, the clinicians can monitor and track all scenarios across a wall of LCD HDTVs. Every encounter is digitally recorded and tagged with the student’s name, so later review can be observed and points of education can be made.

These are just a few of the ways medical schools are evolving with technology, and that is also true of medicine in general. EHRs, digital imaging, and ePrescribing are quickly becoming the norm for medical professionals. Technology has made medical school, residency training, and medical practice more integrative and accessible. However, with all of these advancements, a dilemma presents itself.

The dilemma: has the access to all of this electronic medical information made us diagnostic robots? How do we balance the un-emotive presence of technology with the ability to compassionately communicate with our patients? How can a computer help us improve our relationships with those for whom we care? More on that to come . . .