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At Medicine X, four innovators talk teaching digital literacy and professionalism in medical school

med ed panelOne of my favorite talks yesterday at Stanford's Medicine X was "Fostering Digital Citizenship in Medical School," where four esteemed panelists talked about the innovative programs they've put in place at their institutions.

The physicians joked several times that a good panel often involves controversy or conflict among speakers - but the four of them weren't in disagreement about much. They all believe that things like understanding social media and knowing how to build one's digital footprint are crucial skills for doctors-to-be, even if those aren't an obvious focus for the students themselves. "We can't expect students to understand" this, said Warren Wiechmann, MD, an associate dean at UC Irvine School of Medicine. “They’re focused on learning core forms of medicine.” (Wiechmann started in 2010 a program to provide each incoming medical student with an iPad and has since added to the school's curriculum courses on topics such as social media, wearables, and new digital trends in medicine.)

Kyra Bobinet, MD, PhD, who worked alongside Stanford anesthesiologist (and Medicine X executive director) Larry Chu, MD, to develop and teach Engage and Empower Me, an online course that focuses on patient-engagement design, noted that it's academic leaders' job to be "forward-thinking" for the students "so they're so they’re not behind" when they become physicians. And Bryan Vartabedian, MD, who created at Baylor College of Medicine Digital Smarts, a four-year curriculum that focuses on "professionalism, safety, and mindfulness with social media," agreed. "We're asking big questions here," he told the audience. "What does a doctor need to know 20 years from now? Will he (or she) know how to send a tweet? Do we have to be platform-specific [when teaching]?"

A portion of the 45-minute talk was devoted to the difficulty of incorporating new things in a medical school's curriculum, which is, panelist Amin Azzam, MD, said, already "chock full." Said Wiechmann: "The big dilemma is what do we take out to put in in?" In turn, many of the schools' instructions on digital professionalism and literacy come in the form of elective courses.

When discussing other challenges, Wiechmann said the "line ups not very deep” when it comes to leaders in medical school who know about digital media. These topics aren't "even on the radar" of many faculty-instructors, he said. The panelists also mentioned that the students - most of whom barely remember a time before e-mail, and many of whom consider themselves tech-savvy - don't always think they need training on digital issues. “In one way they know a lot about technology, but they don’t get how to be doctors," pointed out Azzam, who developed a University of California elective course that allows 4th year medical students to edit Wikipedia for academic credit. ("We want them to be digital contributors, not merely digital consumers," he explained.)

Vartabedian said the information that Baylor provides to their students is contextual. Teaching medical students about smartphone use or social media in general wouldn't be terribly helpful, he pointed out - but it becomes valuable "if you talk about it in the wards." What should you do, for example, if a patient engages you via Twitter?

The end of the discussion shifted to patient engagement and the need to educate students about just the thing Vartabedian mentioned (i.e. how to interact with patients on social media) and how the e-patient movement works. "I have a responsibility as an educator to put this content [about patient engagement] – more than, say, biochemistry - in front of students," said Wiechmann.

More news about Stanford Medicine X is available in the Medicine X category.

Previously: Medicine X aims to “fill the gaps” in medical education, More reasons for doctors and researchers to take the social-media plunge, A reminder to young physicians that when it comes to social media, “it’s no longer about you”, A conversation about digital literacy in medical education, Advice for physicians when interacting with patients online and How can physicians manage their online persona? KevinMD offers guidance
Photo by Stanford Medicine X

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