Thursday, April 30, 2009

Collaborative learning in Medical Education - Where is the Patient?

For a while now I have been muddling over a few thoughts in my head. These were prompted by

  1. Medicine's incredible success at treating acute problems and thus bringing chronic problems to the forefront e.g. patient survives a stroke but is left with bed sores, incontinence OR survives an acute heart attack and is left with congestive heart failure. A William Schwab put it at a recent grand rounds, "Success brings failure" and thus our success in treating acute problems has brought us an excess of chronic problems.
  2. Increasing popularity of social media tools like Facebook, Twitter and Second Life. A recent study that I discussed earlier showing students were more likely to use Facebook for a course discussion than the University's learning management system.
  3. Medical education moving from a traditional "talking to the boards" model to a small group collaborative problem solving model - can we use this momentum for including patients into the learning "group"? This thought was resurrected by a post I read by Anne Marie Cunningham.
It seems that learning how to treat an acute problem is something we can do well in our current model of education which has minimal involvement of the patient (in most schools). As our population ages, has more chronic problems, a model that does not involve the patient in the learning process is not going to succeed.

Thus we know what an obese patient with poorly controlled diabetes needs to do to bring his/her condition under control and maintain it there. Patient also often knows this. Still optimal outcome occurs only rarely and if it does, it is not sustained.

In managing chronic conditions, the patient has to learn to take control of his/her condition and the physician is only a part of the solution to make this happen. Our medical students learning is designed to occur either in classrooms or in hospitals - both of which are perfect for acute condition management. The exposure to outpatient chronic condition management where they can interact with the same few patients longitudinally does not occur in most schools.

The reasons for this are mostly logistic. Scheduling students to be in the clinic the same time as specific patients is a logistic nightmare. How about a model using social media?

Can we have students create limited, private accounts in a social media site like Facebook or create a specific site using Ning and invite consenting patients to be their "friends". We could have a list of patients with different conditions and abilities to use these social media tools. The sites would not be accessible except to invitees. The students would collaborate with a set of patients over their entire medical school experience. The patients would post/tweet about their symptoms, office visits, hospitalizations, test results and the students would learn/read up about these and explain these to the patients. In addition, they would work on skills like motivational interviewing, negotiated goal setting to help the patients take better control of their conditions.

This model will allow students to learn the role they have to play in management of chronic conditions and prepare them for the future!