What Are the Implications of Innovations in Medical Education?

A major driver behind innovation in IME is the desire to meet the needs of an increasingly younger physician population. More than half of currently practicing physicians were educated following the widespread adoption of the internet. For these physicians, listening to a speaker or looking at a slide is often not an effective or desired educational approach. In a recent viewpoint in JAMA, the authors stressed the need for innovation in education, saying, “In a world in which physicians can learn about new guidelines more quickly by retrieving them on a handheld device than by listening to a lecture, the traditional formats of information transfer … have diminishing value.” Likewise, an editorial published in The New England Journal of Medicine said that, “CME is most effective in changing physician performance and patient health outcomes if it is interactive … Technology lends itself to learner-controlled training that accommodates diverse learning styles and is particularly well-suited to younger clinicians who are more comfortable in the digital world.”

This growing need for innovative approaches to education has become a driving factor for many novel educational approaches. In response to this need, IME companies have developed numerous new educational activities built on platforms of technologic advancement. These range from online, continuously updated, searchable textbooks to interactive videos, patient simulations, and even video games. The shift to the more technology-driven educational formats extends far beyond IME companies, with respected institutions incorporating these techniques into their educational curriculum. For example, Stanford Medicine has developed several video game–style activities, such as Septris, to teach diagnostic skills across multiple disciplines.

While all of these factors support continued innovation in IME, it is still not clear if the benefits of this approach outweigh the downsides. According to a presentation at the Association of American Medical Colleges, while innovative technologies are useful for improving medical decision-making and problem-solving skills, they are expensive, take extended time to develop, and sometimes overemphasize technology rather than pedagogy. Furthermore, it is not always clear if the technology meets the physician’s needs and desires. While a survey of prIME Oncology physicians found that innovative online activities are very popular, the length of time to complete is the most important factor driving whether or not a physician will participate in an activity. Indeed, 59% of respondents indicated they would not participate in an activity that took more than 30 minutes to complete. Finally, it is not clear whether these novel educational formats are effective in improving physician knowledge and patient care. According to a study comparing game-based learning to case-based learning in an IME environment, physicians who participated in game-based learning did not gain any additional knowledge compared to those who participated in case-based learning. Although there was no significant improvement in knowledge gain, the physicians participating in the game-based activity reported significantly higher satisfaction in the activity.

Given the trends in recent years, it is clear that innovation will continue to play a key role in future educational strategies in IME. However, there are numerous strengths and weaknesses associated with this approach that must be carefully weighed. Most importantly, the desire to develop new and interesting technology should not outweigh the desire to provide a quality learning activity. Education, not entertainment, should be the primary goal.