Survey Says

Telemedicine education in the preclinical med school years is critically important, JOM researchers write

Researchers examined first-year med student confidence with telemedicine before and after a standardized patient encounter conducted via telemedicine.

The use of telemedicine skyrocketed at the start of the pandemic and remains elevated today. The sustained growth of telemedicine underscores the relevance of telemedicine education in medical schools, researchers wrote in a recent Journal of Osteopathic Medicine study that examined the impact of standardized patient encounters on medical students’ confidence in using telemedicine to see patients.

Conducted at the Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine in Spartanburg, South Carolina, the small study examined first-year student confidence with telemedicine before and after the students participated in a standardized patient encounter that took place via telemedicine. Researchers surveyed the students’ confidence in various areas by asking them to report it on a five-point scale:

1. Not Confident
2. A Little Confident
3. Somewhat Confident
4. Confident
5. Extremely Confident

Practice boosts confidence

Of the 103 students who completed the pre-encounter survey, 37 (36%) reported feeling “a little confident” and 20 (19%) said they were “not confident” in using telemedicine. The experience clearly improved student confidence with telemedicine; of the 74 students who answered the post-encounter survey, 32 (43%) said they felt “confident” and 24 (32%) reported feeling “somewhat confident” using telemedicine.

According to the study, physicians must develop slightly different skills to navigate telemedicine encounters versus in-person encounters. When seeing patients via telemedicine, physicians need to learn to connect with people virtually and glean information without the physical cues that would be visible during an in-person appointment.

Current data on how many medical schools incorporate telemedicine education into the preclinical curriculum is not readily available, the researchers wrote, but they shared information about a mixed-methods review of 17 medical schools from 2019, which found that the majority of schools provided most of their telemedicine education during students’ clinical training. Roughly 59% of the schools in that study included telemedicine experiences via patient encounters or standardized patient encounters in their preclinical education.

“A relative lack of exposure to telemedicine may leave medical students and new residents unprepared in a clinical environment,” the researchers wrote.

Unique skills required for telemedicine

Overall, the students’ confidence levels rose after they were able to practice using telemedicine themselves, the researchers reported. A standardized patient encounter conducted via telemedicine allows students to practice the unique skills required for telemedicine, they noted.

“Medical schools might consider adding a telemedicine curriculum and standardized patient experiences in the undergraduate medical setting,” they wrote.

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