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Saturday, September 15, 2012

Smartphones, mobile apps and social networking in medical education

Mark Bridge writes:

I wasn’t supposed to be at this year’s AMEE 2012 conference in Lyon. AMEE is the Association for Medical Education in Europe, which - as you can probably guess - has very little direct connection with the mobile phone industry. However, my wife was going because she works in medical education. Me?  I fancied a trip to France.

My plan was to hang around in the city during the day, drinking coffee and eating brioche aux pralines until my teeth started screaming. In the evening we’d meet at a small cafe and be mistaken for locals. In my dreams.

My biggest mistake was looking through the conference programme. There was a section on mobile learning, there were discussions about social networking… hang on, this was starting to sound interesting. My teeth breathed a sigh of relief.

Before I knew it, my short break had become a busman’s holiday.

Now, to put things in perspective, mobile technology isn’t currently a big part of the education progress. However, as this year’s AMEE programme demonstrated, it is becoming increasingly important.

Natalie Lafferty, the e-learning lead at the medical school at the University of Dundee, explained that mobile technology offered colleges and universities the advantage of being able to ‘push’ learning to students.

“You’ve got schools like Stanford who a couple of years ago decided to give all of their students an iPad, you’ve got Nancy in France who also have given all of their medical students an iPad, in the UK we have Leeds who gave their clinical students iPhones two years ago, Manchester this year have given iPads to their fourth year students and they're rolling it out further next year…”

As Natalie mentioned, the University of Leeds is seen as a pioneer when it comes to technology in medical education. Gareth Frith, the technology enhanced learning manager from the Leeds Institute of Medical Education, told me their iPhone scheme was still running - but was likely to be transformed into a ‘bring your own device’ programme in the near future.

“I think it will definitely be within the next two years. It looks as though 75% of our students have some kind of smartphone at the moment - and I think in a year’s time that will probably be enough Android and iPhone devices for us to make a commitment to provide content for the students’ phones rather than give them the phones.”

I asked Gareth what he thought the future held for mobile devices in medical education. His answer: voice recognition and voice transcription.

“Most doctors like to give feedback or write their notes by dictating”, he said. “The technology is very, very close to being excellent in that respect; another six months and another couple of software releases and I think we will see people doing that quite normally.”

Dr Nicole Koehler of Monash University in Australia revealed details of a study that had asked medical students about their attitudes towards medically-related mobile phone apps.

Over three-quarters of students owned a smartphone - and most of those students had already experienced applications with a medical focus. They were generally positive about using medically-related apps, although they didn’t see apps replacing textbooks.

I asked her whether students were concerned that using smartphones for study might be perceived as ‘playing with their phones’ by other people.

“They are issues that did turn up; for example, a patient might think they are using some sort of social media when they are actually looking up information. That indicates to us that students must make patients aware by saying ‘I just want to check this, I’m looking something up for you’. It’s an issue the students raised themselves.”

The full-length versions of my interviews are in this week’s special podcast feature, which also includes conversations about a couple of the applications that were discussed at AMEE. Dr Bridget Maher from the School of Medicine at University College Cork talked about a mobile app that helped students write better letters when their patients left hospital, while Supriya Krishnan from the e-Learning Unit at St George’s, University of London, talked about transforming teaching materials from paper-based learning to online interactive Virtual Patients and now to mobile apps.

You can listen to the full podcast on this website, by downloading the mp3 file or by picking it up from iTunes. It’s also possible to subscribe to all our weekly podcasts via RSS and iTunes or by using the Stitcher mobile app.

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