At the beginning of 2020, COVID-19’s arrival forced dramatic alterations to even the most trivial aspects of day to day lives. Seemingly overnight, masks, sanitizers, social distancing guidelines, and uncertainty became the new normal. Few endeavors were more directly affected than healthcare education. In a very short period of time, colleges and universities not only had to adopt online learning options, but also needed to address the reduced access students had to clinical environments.
In the recent past, medical education has experimented conservatively with digital education. VR software programs and specialized mannequins have emerged as one solution to providing more clinical experience. These tools allow students to practice diverse clinical simulations outside of the hospital. But while many learning institutions have begun embracing digital learning platforms, most of these technologies rely on fictitious simulations programmed into software or played out by actors.
Tammie Haveman, assistant professor Physician Assistant program at Bethel University observed, “ReelDx really stood out to me from the other programs that I looked at due to the fact that it was real patients, and real medical scenarios being featured.”
Transitioning to Online Learning
With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, traditional clinical rounds came to a halt leaving teachers and students wondering “what’s next”? Bethel’s faculty were forced to transition to online learning.
”My department asked me to research and select a program to integrate into our instruction that would help fill the gaps left by clinical rounds being canceled”, Haveman recalls. “Once I came across ReelDx it was a no-brainer. The fact that it featured real patients and their evaluations with real healthcare providers really stood out to me. It allowed for the flexibility that is necessary in online learning without sacrificing the exposure to real world scenarios.”
ReelDx is composed of a library containing over 700 video cases. Each case features a two- to three-minute introductory video of the patient interacting with their provider. There is also rich case data, including vitals and demographics of the patient, a suggested differential diagnosis, the final diagnosis, and a range of additional media to help students really understand the case.
Patients consent to the use of their case data as well as their image in video, permitting their experience to be encapsulated in the ReelDx library. This ensures that cases are HIPAA compliant. The medical provider holds the camera (often their phone), providing a first person perspective for viewers that simulates an in-person experience.
Haveman recounted the challenge of transitioning the Bethel University program from in-person to online learning.
“We faced two serious problems when COVID-19 made it impossible for our PA students to perform their clinical rounds in a hospital setting” she recalled. “We wanted to provide quality clinical training in the absence of site availability and we don’t know when this virus will lift, and when we will be able to return to our normal procedures.
“The reality was, we had a class full of students ready and eager to continue their education and we had to find a way that we could advance them through their degree, and get them out there practicing medicine, but be sure that we didn’t cut any corners when it came to their wealth of knowledge.”
The Future of Digital Learning
Beyond the realities of COVID-19, the popularity of telehealth has also revolutionized modern medicine and allowed for greater convenience to busy, rural, and eldery folks especially. As emerging vaccines bring hope for the pandemic’s end, and medical education returns to in-person learning, ReelDx will continue to serve as an essential learning tool.
Haveman believes that “industries such as telehealth are here to stay. I think that more and more people have been opting into these kinds of services due to the nature of the pandemic, but I think that people are realizing ‘hey, this would make a lot more sense in my normal routines as well’.”
While the current pandemic will eventually subside, the shifting landscape of medical education has accelerated towards digital learning. Digital platforms like ReelDx allow students to study, practice, question, and repeat as necessary according to their own schedules and lifestyles. This allows for more flexibility and leads to a more inclusive and diverse student body.
The impact of telehealth, remote care, and digital learning over the last year is evidence of permanent change. Many Americans with chronic illnesses are still in need of consistent care despite the closure of clinics and hospitals.
Equipped with the experience of online learning and real world clinical cases, rising healthcare providers like Haveman’s Bethel PA students are better suited to administer care in an increasingly uncertain and evolving world — one that relies on digital platforms, which provide flexibility, convenience, and consistency to all participating demographics.