Digitalisation is already an everyday part of health care, but it has not been systematically introduced to medical education. The MEDigi project, which began in spring 2018 and is now at its halfway point, responds to this challenge at the learning content and teaching methods level.
The main objective of MEDigi is to harmonise and standardise the teaching content of medicine and dentistry on a nationwide basis. The primary focus is on basic skills in different fields, explains Professor of Practice Jarmo Reponen, who is the project leader.
"Basic skills are the bread of the project, but the butter on the bread is the elements related to the surrounding digitalisation that will be added to teaching. This includes encountering patients in a digital environment, health care decision-making systems and artificial intelligence as well as cyber security related to using electronic patient records and information sources."
In addition, MEDigi focuses on teaching related to electronic health care tools (eHealth), which has been provided at the University of Oulu since 2016.
The background lies in the digitalisation of working life, which is also advancing in medical fields. "For example, electronic patient records are utilised throughout Finland's health care system. Film images are no longer used, and all imaging is now digital. Citizens use digital health services, such as My Kanta, and patient encounters can take place in a chat or by video. A growing area is self-monitoring tools that allow patients to report their own measurement results and condition to the physician,” says Reponen.
"Students need coaching related to this environment, and the same applies to teachers in medical fields."
Piloting of digital solutions in the 2020-2021 academic year
Even more than teaching content, digitalisation is related to the second objective of MEDigi, which is to develop electronic teaching methods. This covers not only the digitalisation of learning, exam and evaluation materials, but also the technical environment in which digital materials can be used.
"First, we define what education in different fields of medicine should be like and discuss the content. Then we consider what parts of the content can be transferred to a digital environment," says Reponen as he describes the procedure.
"We’re working on two things: The first is the digital service environment, or ‘hardware’ and the software that will support teaching. The second is content cooperation, which involves adding the core elements of teaching to the hardware and software.
Since content decisions are made in field-specific working groups, the digital solutions are progressing according to different schedules. The objective is to pilot the solutions in most subjects during the academic year 2020-2021. The question of how much of the materials will be digital is still open. However, Reponen points out that digitalisation is not an end in itself.
"It’s already possible to use electronic materials in many subjects. Despite this, they are only a part of the entire education, because hands-on skills and dealing with patients play a key role in medicine and dentistry. Rather than replacing teaching that is sensible to organise in a non-digital manner or with the patient, the purpose is to supplement and support it."
Practical patient work will continue to be the foundation of teaching
Digital methods that support teaching are already in use. For example, video material is utilised with learning content that requires repetition. Virtual glasses make it possible to practice surgical skills, and Oulu has a simulation laboratory at Oulu University Hospital and another at the Dentopolis hub for dentists.
The aim of MEDigi is to bring the electronic learning materials together on a single website, where they can be accessed nationally. The current location is the digicampus.fi website.
"Some subjects have already added their courses there. For example, the website contains online teaching material related to paediatric diseases and pathology, such as text material, video lectures, images and links to textbooks,” explains Reponen.
Project Coordinator Anna Levy explains that sharing digital image material online is a good solution. "For instance, the project is producing content for a web microscope that can be used to examine samples and sections."
As MEDigi progresses, virtual patient case software will also be added, making it possible to practise diagnosis and decision-making skills in a safe learning environment.
"Prior to MEDigi, the use of virtual patient case software has been relatively limited in Finland. In practice, this process involves teachers creating patient cases in a virtual environment for students to work on: what examinations should be performed, what kind of treatment should be prescribed. The software then provides the student with feedback.”
Digital pedagogy is being developed along with the methods. "Teaching staff will be offered training related to producing and using digital materials and developing course entities," says Levy. However, she believes that practical patient work will continue to be the foundation for teaching.
"The difference is that support material will be provided for contact and clinical teaching, For example, students can familiarise themselves with the material before participating in doctor’s rounds."
The practical results of the MEDigi project will become visible in spring 2021, when students will already be included in the pilots. At this time, the key outcome is the unprecedented scope of the collaboration,” says Reponen.
"During the project, we can build a common technical operating platform while learning to provide uniform, harmonised teaching and teach using digital methods. The guiding principle is continuous development and permanent practices."
Text: Jarno Mällinen
Photo: Project leader, Professor of Practise Jarmo Reponen and project coordinator Anna Levy promote the MEDigi project.
Last updated: 20.2.2020