The art of balancing technology and human connection
Lately, in the Faculty of Health Sciences we have been exploring the idea of the “flipped classroom”, an educational term used to describe the idea of switching the components of homework with the components of class time. For instance, instead of using valuable class time for a lecture, students are asked to watch the lecture as their homework, and time together in the classroom is spent on activities such as small group learning, debate, lab demonstrations, etc. The “flip” allows teachers and students to use their time together to problem-solve, revisit difficult concepts, brainstorm, and support each other directly. The outcome is a more flexible and influential learning environment.
There is no doubt that the sharp rise in access to the Internet and technology over the last several years has helped to make the flipped classroom a truly viable option. Now, not only is it viable – it’s becoming a necessity. These days, a decent Google search will provide you with any information you’d like with the click of a button. Our strategic advantage as an educational institution must be to provide our students with easily accessible and carefully curated information and compliment that with valuable lessons they can’t simply find online
As we aim to provide our students with the most comprehensive, balanced, and practical learning experience, I question whether we are doing enough to explore that same potential with our patients. Could we take the concept of a flipped classroom and apply that to the interactions between healthcare providers and their patients? Could ideas such as e-consults, Skype clinics, e-prescribing, and follow-up text messages reduce the need to meet a percentage of our patients face-to-face, thereby improving access and wait times?
These ideas are already being explored all over the world, with an estimated 100-million e-health visits worldwide last year alone. Further, it is approximated that 300-million annual visits to general practitioners in Canada and the US are for health problems that could be solved by an e-visit.[i]
Closer to home, the e-health theory, ever increasingly a reality, is being tested out by the Champlain LHIN, where they have created a web-based service for primary care providers to access specialist care for their patients. In the first 2825 sessions monitored, they found that 41% of e-consultations led to a referral being avoided, with the average time for a specialist to respond being reduced to two days. For their patients, the service eliminated unnecessary travel, reduced wait time, and improved treatment response time.[ii]
In other countries, we’ve seen the idea of e-health assessments taken even further. In the UK, patients can use a phone app to speak with a physician regarding common medical issues within a few hours of their request. If the consultation results in a prescription, the app sends the information to a pharmacist closest to the patient. Providers can also refer patients to a specialist or order diagnostic testing. Additionally, the app stores the patient’s consultation records for reference, and connects with other healthcare apps to help monitor daily health statistics.[iii]
At Queen’s we have a major asset in SEAMO. SEAMO is a five-way partnership between our Kingston-based hospitals, Queen’s, and our Clinical Teachers Association (CTAQ). This organization manages an alternate funding plan (AFP) that combines the missions of advancing patient care, promoting innovation and discovery, and delivering medical education. With SEAMO as an asset, I believe that we here at Queen’s are uniquely positioned to test many of these ideas out. As such, in June, we will be hosting some Canadian experts in e-health to discuss the practical application of these concepts and to start thinking strategically about how we might use technology to better serve our patients.
In many ways, technology will change the world of healthcare, but it is not a complete answer to our problems, and there are inherent elements of healthcare that it will never be able to replace – namely human connection, empathy, and compassion. But to discredit technology in healthcare entirely for those reasons would be to miss the opportunity to expand our abilities to teach, learn, and share more effectively. I believe there is an appropriate balance; and we can discover it in the arena of health care delivery if we become aggressive about exploring the possibilities.
I invite you to share your thoughts on the use of technology in healthcare at Queen’s in the comments below, or better yet, please drop by the Macklem House … my door is always open.
P.S. The author would like to thank Emma Woodman for her assistance in the preparation of this blog.