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Online curriculum helps students and public learn about influenza

Stanford's Flu Crew, which administers flu vaccines in and around the Stanford community, has had many successes over the last few years, which we'll highlight in a post later this week. One achievement I thought deserved special attention is an innovative curriculum on influenza created by former medical student Kelsey Hills-Evans, MD, now an internal medicine resident at Harvard. Her online videos, such as the one above (which is the first in the series), are accessible not only to Flu Crew's student participants but the public at large.

The videos were produced via a partnership with Khan Academy and built on the flipped classroom model championed by Charles Prober, MD, senior associate dean of medical education. They also received the Shenson Bedside Innovation Award in 2013. Rishi Desai, MD, a Stanford pediatric infectious disease physician and medical fellow at Khan Academy, supervised Hills-Evans' efforts and told me in an email that Hills-Evans and the Flu Crew "put together some really amazing videos explaining everything from the basics of influenza to common misconceptions and fears that people have about the flu vaccine. They deserve all of the credit for the idea and execution of the project."

Hills-Evans tried to keep each video under five minutes: "I wanted it to be a quick, high-yield snapshot of information that people could watch in one sitting and not easily forget." She shared more details with me over email:

What did you aim to convey in these training videos? How did you imagine your audience? 

I wanted our student volunteers to come away from the training with enough general knowledge about influenza to answer nearly any question that patients might have. We equipped them with knowledge about its history, how it genetically changes over time, the clinical symptoms, the vaccine's risks and benefits, specific patient populations, and even a section on flu shot myths. Our last video was meant for students to become public-health advocates equipped with facts and counter-arguments to some of the most common excuses people have for not protecting themselves with the flu vaccine.

For these general info videos, I was really aiming to be accessible to the general public. The topics are all applicable to the lay person, so I tried my best to stay away from clinical jargon. I wanted people to come away from the training with a better understanding of how dangerous influenza can be - many people shrug at the flu as a bit worse than a winter cold, but it kills tens of thousands of people every year. In addition, there are so many myths generated by popular media and the public about the illness itself (i.e., “I got a stomach flu” which is never actually an influenza virus) and especially about vaccines. It was important to me that we make these videos public so more individuals could be informed.

For the sections meant only for clinical personnel, our priority was to train the members of the Stanford Flu Crew, but I also wanted this component to be exportable to other medical programs. It was meant to teach students to deliver the best intramuscular (IM) injections possible. We’ve been told countless times that our method for IM injections yields extremely high patient satisfaction and nearly pain-free injections (some say “the best flu shot they’ve received”).

How did the videos come about?

In my first year, I developed a PowerPoint and student handbook for Flu Crew, but found that the training sessions were hard to schedule, tedious, and inefficient. Plus, during these presentations all I saw was bored faces. I think the PowerPoint model is so tired. Really, I wanted something that optimized the in-person training time, so I started to think of ways to make learning more personalized.

Around the same time, our medical school was experimenting with the “flipped classroom model” and we decided to move our own training to online video modules. The medical education team put me in touch with Dr. Rishi Desai from Khan Academy. This guy is a true MedEd genius - he helped me a lot in planning my lessons, keeping things short and sweet, and putting everything into an easy-to-understand format. He taught me to use the tablet like a chalk-board, drawing as I talk in real-time. I also focus on one section of the “board” for each topic, and by the end, the shot zooms out to expose the entire “board”, so the viewer can review what we covered and visualize how it all comes together. I think this is really solidifying for our audience.

After our initial meeting, I was on my own. I threw myself into this project and absolutely loved it. The process really became a new hobby for me.

Do you have a personal connection to the material?

In 2003 I was involved in a project with several other Stanford medical and undergraduate students to develop an online flu preparedness training for the general public to respond to pandemic influenza. This was in the era of the avian influenza scare, and we made a second version in 2009 to address the swine flu outbreak. The point of these manuals (link to pdf) was for a serious pandemic, when infection risk is so high that the community cannot come together in person.

What I love so much about these video modules is that this comes full circle for me. A project I began 12 years ago to develop an easy-to-use, online, safely-distributed training guide to educate people about influenza has now evolved into a series of online video modules that can be accessed online from anywhere. So in the event of a pandemic influenza outbreak, a vaccine shortage, etc, we have the ability to circulate a series of trainings for free to clinical personnel all over the world.

Previously: Using digital resources to redefine the medical education model, Using the "flipped classroom" model to reimagine medical education and Student "Flu Crew" brings no-cost flu vaccinations to the community

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