Rebecca Patterson, Director of Global Marketing, iheed

We have come a long way since 1858 when the University of London offered the first distance education degree. There are now more than 400,000 students studying remotely in the UK alone. And yet there are the naysayers! Despite the blatant time-poor world we live in and the spectacular advances in technology, many still perceive online medical education as substandard and the ‘poor cousin’ to the traditional university setting. It doesn’t matter that Berkely, NYU, Harvard, LSE, Oxford, indeed all the top-ranking global universities, now offer superb online medical education programmes, there are still many who turn up their nose.

For most of us though, that psychological shift has happened and we find online medical education the perfect way to marry our aspirations with our time-poor, day-to-day lives. But medical education?? Seriously? How can we cross that Rubicon? Ok, digesting a business qualification, in an online setting, is one thing, but medicine? Teaching people how to save lives, upskilling clinicians and measuring clinical competency remotely? How can such vital learning translate to a virtual setting? Well, it can.

We are sitting on the cusp of a learning revolution in medicine. For the first time, technology is overtaking our aspirations in medical pedagogy. The very best online medical educators are now using sophisticated 3D simulations, gaming and advanced decision-based scenarios. We can now assess clinical competency using remote Direct Observation of Procedural Skills (DOPS) and remote Mini-CEX. We now have prescribed and standardised rubrics applied to virtual OSCEs. Faculty evaluators can remotely observe each student’s performance in in standard scenarios and can thus assess specific knowledge, skill performance and clinical reasoning using these standardised rubrics. The use of standardised cases and rubrics allows for objective evaluation of student competencies, which is generally not possible in real-life clinical scenarios. The process may also include debriefing with the Student, Standardised Patients and Faculty, providing an ideal opportunity for reflection and ongoing learning.

With remarkable 3D imaging, the human body can be replicated at a precise and even molecular level eventually leaving the cadaver in the medical schools of the past.

Patient interaction tools and behavioural modification methodologies can be expertly demonstrated and imparted in an online setting helping the clinician focus on prevention of chronic diseases like diabetes and CVD.

Medical student supervision can be complemented with virtual learning, quizzes and remote observation tools.

Online, secure medical exam proctoring eliminates the need for students to travel long and unnecessary distances to exam centres thereby alleviating some of the exam stress.

On the softer side, put yourself in the shoes of an overworked rural clinician in a remote location in Canada, Australia, Africa or India, far away from colleagues and universities. The ability to see fellow doctors in a real-time virtual classroom and to discuss complex patient cases and treatments, with those same colleagues, on a weekly discussion forum, is invaluable. A learning support network and community of peers enhances clinical competence, diagnosis and prescribing practices. This type of regular interaction removes the traditional feeling of isolation in online medical education and exemplifies the reality of quality remote learning.

When exceptional clinical competency assessment and social learning is coupled with world ranking university accreditors and equitable tuition fees, how can you argue? The future of online medical education is now.

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