It is now commonplace for patients to search their symptoms and even to arrive at their doctor’s office prepared to offer advice on potential courses of treatment. The availability of medical information online reflects the fact that the medical profession recognized the value of online learning early on. Medical professionals were also among the earliest adopters of mobile devices as a platform for education and on-the-job training and mentorship.
Apps for Interns
In 2010, Stanford University’s medical school started to hand out iPads to their medical students. Since then, a growing number of medical schools have followed Stanford’s lead. In 2012, after a successful pilot, Yale School of Medicine decided to provide iPads to their students, noting that it costs close to $1000 per year to provide paper copies of course materials to students while an iPad can provide the same materials with supporting apps.
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More importantly, however, an iPad holds the potential to support medical students in the classroom and in clinical environments. For this reason, doctor’s white coats have even started to be redesigned (increasingly, they have pockets large enough for a tablet). In 2012, there were already over 2500 free medical apps available for iPads that offered medical students and doctors everything from views of the human anatomy in color or 3D-images to the ability to take handwritten notes that can be converted into pdfs to comprehensive drug dictionaries. In short, medical apps have emerged as an effective way for medical students to bring their textbooks into clinical settings and for their mentors to monitor their progress whether or not they are close by or working in a remote location.
mLearning for Rural and Remote Interns and Doctors
While the impact of mLearning on medical students in the U.S. has already proven significant, in developing countries, the potential is even greater.
A 2012 study on medical practitioners in Botswana discovered that mLearning had the potential to support doctors working in remote communities and even held the potential to increase the retention rates of doctors assigned to rural posts. Like many African countries, in Botswana, medical workers’ information needs are often not met. A lack of vital information means that much of the country’s population continues to suffer from substandard medical care. In resource-limited countries, however, mobile devices are increasingly bridging the information gap.
In Botswana there are only 40 physicians for every 100,000 people and access to specialists is limited, especially outside major urban centers. The country also reports the second highest rates of HIV and AIDS in the world. As a result, it is a country with limited resources and an extremely high demand for well-trained and well-informed physicians. In 2009, the University of Botswana School of Medicine (SOM) admitted its inaugural class of students and residents. While access to the Internet is even limited in the capital city, access in remote areas, where residents are often placed, is even more limited, meaning that residents frequently struggle to stay in touch with their specialist mentors. To support residents and incentivize rural and remote placements, the SOM introduced a smartphone-based mLearning tool. The tool was designed to enhance residents’ access to resources, as well as access to remote mentoring.
The study in Botswana concluded that mLearning holds the potential to greatly support the training of medical interns and their work in the field. Specifically, the study concluded that smartphones loaded with point-of-care tools were easy to use and easy to access, enhancing delivery on the ground. In addition, they offered a way for mentors to evaluate interns at a distance and more effectively evaluate and improve their own training models.
Worried that your doctor keeps checking his or her mobile phone? If you are, you can be rest assured that the use of mobile devices in the medical profession has already been proven to enhance the training of medical interns and to support the work of licensed practitioners, especially those charged with the delivery of services to people in rural and remote communities.