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Ten years ago, a team of surgeons had to remove an inflamed gallbladder by hand – now a robot does it. Before COVID-19, nursing students performed their clinicals in-person surrounded by instructors and other students – now some use VR. The future of healthcare is technology, whether you’re a seasoned professional or a first-year student.
With the move to online education, technology has also become a bridge between schools, instructors, and students. In addition to virtual lectures and online exams, you have patient simulations, augmented reality, and other training mechanisms that prepare students to enter increasingly tech-heavy careers upon graduation. Although few abilities trump keen observation and quality bedside manner, tech skills and experience are definitely on the rise.
If you have your eye on higher education in healthcare, learn how today’s top tech is paving the way for future students just like you.
Virtual & Augmented Reality
Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) are quickly emerging as the high-tech solution for improving the delivery of healthcare education. With medical technology undergoing revolutionary upgrades at a faster pace than ever before, it’s imperative that all healthcare professionals stay up to date with the most current innovations. As healthcare relies more heavily on technology as each year goes by, students should be introduced to it in the classroom early on in their education. Here’s what you need to know about VR and AR in the healthcare classroom today.
Wearable/Portable Technologies & Mobile Health
In most cases, wearable technology is designed to continuously monitor human behavior and physical activity, including biochemical and physiological aspects. The devices might be data-driven, designed to capture patient vital signs like blood pressure and heart rate to blood oxygen saturation and body temperature. Alternatively, wearable technologies might be video- or photo-oriented to help healthcare providers assess patients’ movements in physical space, their posture, and more. They can be attached to limbs on the body, objects in a room or vehicle, or even a patient’s skin. There have also been developments in the last several years in wearable devices for healthcare learners, including the use of Google Glass in the classroom.
Digital Health and Telehealth
Digital health and telehealth refer to just about everything in healthcare practices made possible by remote or long-distance technologies. This includes remote clinical healthcare, health administration operations, public health operations, and professional health-related education. All of these components of telehealth are expanding with the improvement of technology and the convenience of being able to serve students who have scheduling challenges or geographic barriers that would normally keep them out of traditional on-campus healthcare programs.
Additionally, today’s healthcare workers, especially medical physicians and others who work directly with patients, enjoy easy remote access to medical documents like x-rays, patient medical histories, and even patients themselves through telehealth computer systems and dedicated video technologies.
Robotics in healthcare refers to certain types of new technologies that exist in areas like surgery, rehabilitation, sterilization and cleaning, voice recognition, and much more to assist healthcare workers with daily tasks and patient care. We can categorize four main types of robotics used in healthcare: surgical robots, exoskeletons, care robots, and hospital robots. From minimally invasive surgeries and recovery efforts to in-home patient assistance and general laboratory tasks, the variety of uses for robotics is growing every year, making healthcare more efficient and precise.
Remote Health Monitoring
Similar to the advantages we see from wearable technologies, remote health monitoring (also referred to as remote patient monitoring or RPM) essentially helps healthcare workers to gather information on patients through data outside of the usual healthcare settings like clinics and hospitals.
Companies like Care Innovations offer a variety of remote health monitoring systems that patients can engage with, many of which use technologies that are quite similar to a tablet or iPad. These technologies also include utility adapters, room motion sensors, and bed sensors to monitor patient activity and mobility. Healthcare providers get much more patient data this way and can tailor their treatments to better suit patients’ needs as a result.
Artificial Intelligence (AI)
AI is becoming increasingly popular and widespread in the healthcare field. Most standard applications for this technology involve patient diagnoses, the development of patient treatment plans, various administrative activities, and patient engagement. Various types of AI uses in healthcare are quickly growing, including machine learning, natural language processing, physical robots, task automation, administrative applications, and more. HealthTech highlights some of the recent medical tools that leverage AI technologies, including robotic-assisted therapy, MelaFind, and virtual assistants.
Computer-Assisted Learning (CAL)
Broadly defined, CAL is when we use the assistance of computerized technologies to support learning for humans. In healthcare, one of the primary applications of CAL has been simply to help students, professors, and healthcare professionals keep up with the overwhelming amount of health-related information we’ve acquired through advanced technologies. Additionally, CAL has served as an increasingly popular tool for medical professionals to learn sophisticated skillsets that are continuously more closely tied to advanced technologies.
Healthcare analytics focuses on the analysis and use of data collected in four main areas of the field: pharmaceutical research and development, clinical, patient behavior and sentiment, and claims and cost. This technology is also used to update and inform stakeholders, manage incredibly large data sets, evaluate practitioner performance, predict risk, reduce patient and institutional spending, and make medical diagnoses.
Benefits of Technology for Healthcare Education
As discussed by Phyllis A. Guze, M.D. in an article for the American Clinical and Climatological Association, technology has made crucial contributions to healthcare education and professional performance in the past several years. For Dr. Guze, these advantages include the improvement of decision-making and skill coordination, enhanced perceptual variation, and the creation of an engaging educational environment that allows students to practice procedures without any risk to a human patient. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Here are just some of the major benefits the continued use technology will have on healthcare.
- Learning and assessment improvements
With the vast amount of data we can collect, process, and share today, healthcare students have more information at their fingertips than ever. With the recent technologies in healthcare informatics and other analytical specialties, instructors can compile this information into a digestible format for advanced, up-to-date learning opportunities. This is beneficial for several reasons, as it often comes from work with real patients and care facilities.
- Controlled environments with zero risk to human patients or participants
Healthcare learners can get valuable hands-on experience with VR and AR simulations and robotics. These life-like virtual realities can better prepare you for the real thing after you’ve had enough practice.
- Realistic visualization
Many steps beyond more traditional methods for learning healthcare topics, such as from a textbook or video instruction, technologies today offer wildly realistic, hands-on opportunities for students to advance their knowledge more quickly.
- Learner control of the educational experience
Online healthcare students today can often engage in asynchronous learning formats. These experiences allow learners to move at their own pace and spend more time working on those subjects that challenge them.
- Repetition, repeatability, and practice
In most learning scenarios, students can take advantage of the repeatability of these educational technologies. For example, many educational robotics are able to replicate a scenario over and over again, allowing healthcare students to practice treating particular issues by using multiple approaches over time.
- Learner behavior documentation and feedback
CAL technologies, remote monitoring, and analytic technologies help healthcare students and their teachers better understand their progress and performance throughout their participation in a course or clinical training. Each student’s progress, strengths, and weaknesses can be immediately quantified and presented to instructors for constructive use in the educational process.
- Instruction tailored to individual or group needs
Various learning technologies today, including CAL, give teachers the opportunities to supplement their in-person or online teaching materials in a way that serves their classroom. Whether one-on-one or in a group, students can receive more useful and time-efficient instruction than ever before.
- Enhance perceptual variation and improve skill coordination
Along with the repeatability of these technologies, healthcare students can engage with learning modules that present a range of variations to one problem or procedure. As a result, learners are more adept at thinking on their feet, changing their approaches to meet a new challenge, and ultimately are better prepared to handle real-life situations.
- Standardization of instruction, assessment, and administrative tasks
With these improvements in technology, educators and professors can develop and continually revise a standard approach to teaching their required courses, as well as a reliable system for assessing student progress, outcomes, and their feedback. Additionally, other professionals in healthcare, especially those in leadership or administrative roles, can take advantage of a standardized practice for training employees in the clinical setting, as well as develop tech-based systems that assist workers with daily tasks.
Insight from the Expert
Sanket Shah is an instructor for the University of Illinois at Chicago Department of Biomedical and Health Information Sciences (BHIS) at the College of Applied Health Sciences. Professor Shah has created a course curriculum focusing on healthcare business intelligence, healthcare data, knowledge management, and consumer informatics.
Q: What role does health-focused technology play on the teaching side of things for you for your online teaching? Is it part of everything you do or just to enhance the experience?
A: It plays an enormous role. The healthcare industry is rapidly evolving, and new technologies and approaches are at the forefront of our courses. For instance, the focus on next-generation analytics inclusive of artificial intelligence and machine learning has been a very important foundational layer within the healthcare data science discipline. We leverage environments, datasets, and develop algorithms that are designed to tackle some of the most pressing needs within the healthcare continuum. We discuss all the items above as they are no longer considered “future technology,” but rather, these are the technologies that healthcare organizations are leveraging every day.
Q: You have experience designing online curricula for nursing students using modern technology. What types of technologies are you using? Have your methods changed over time because of advancing technologies, tech issues, student suggestions, and other factors?
A: Most certainly. I’ve been online teaching for nearly a decade and so much has changed over time. Quite frankly, even a decade ago, online learning mainly focused on principles and concepts. What was lacking was an actual “hands-on” component most would be accustomed to through a traditional in-person format. The technology, security, and user experiences were simply not mature enough at the time. However, now I’m able to use advanced learning platforms, video conferencing software, virtual environments — all through a mobile-enabled framework. The experience is quite different than 10 years ago. I always try and keep on top of the latest tech to improve the learning experience for our students.
Q: Are technologies usually quite a bit different in the clinic setting than in the classroom? If so, how does technology help you provide nurses with remote clinical experiences that serve to replace in-person learning in more traditional formats?
A: Certainly, the experience will differ. I do think the gap is closing based on new tech. Although my focus is more on the healthcare IT side of things, I do know others are leveraging virtual reality and augmented reality to train physicians and nurses to perform complex medical procedures with greater accuracy. Such tools are particularly effective for collaborating with clinicians who are located in remote areas without access to a full range of conventional resources for performing surgeries or diagnosing patients. For example, students can use the technology to understand procedures, using step-by-step simulations to demonstrate exactly how they will perform a surgery. Augmented reality technology may be used to create virtual libraries that offer immediate access to detailed information about past medical procedures, allowing doctors and nurses to more precisely evaluate potential outcomes and risk factors when planning treatment options. These are just some of the examples of how we’ve come a long way with online learning. The tech that is available today and what will be available tomorrow will only further the comprehensive and immersive learning experience.
Q: Which technology has been the biggest game-changer for your students over the last couple of years? Why?
A: From the health analytics perspective, it is without a doubt the cloud environment. I’m able to create multiple virtual environments that can be remotely administered and accessed from anywhere in the world. It enables the inclusion of multiple platforms, databases, learning modules, and visualization software that can be scaled and rapidly deployed. In my opinion, without this technology, the popularity and value gained from online learning would be greatly diminished.
Q: What would you say to a prospective student who’s nervous about learning the essential career skills in an online environment rather than in the classroom (aside from the required clinical hours in-person)?
A: Ultimately, that decision depends on the individual. Your situation is unique and you must determine what is the best path. I can tell you that being nervous about the essential skills being lost from an online format is something not to worry about. The online learning format has come a long way and you will gain the necessary skills while building meaningful relationships throughout your journey. I chose the online format because it was ideal for me when I had to juggle personal and professional commitments. Technology has improved the experience considerably and the online learning format is certainly here to stay.