Mobile devices vital to education of medical students

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The practice of medicine is changing thanks to the advent of mobile technology, and so must the curriculum of medical schools. However, because the healthcare industry at large has traditionally been slow to adopt information technology, it is not surprising that digital course offerings for medical students are not as widespread as they should be.

Nevertheless, some medical schools have taken the lead in introducing courses to teach students vital technological skills that will be indispensable in future healthcare settings. The University of California at Irvine School of Medicine is one such school. Its innovative medical education program--the iMedEd Initiative--is an iPad-based curriculum, the "first in the nation to provide a completely digital, interactive learning environment that includes tablet-based learning and portable ultrasound clinical training."

Under the iMedEd Initiative launched in 2010, all incoming UC Irvine medical students receive iPads that serve as the digital source for all the information they need for their studies, including electronic textbooks, podcasts of lectures, and data from digital stethoscopes, bedside diagnostic ultrasound units and a variety of other medical devices, as well as encrypted, patient-protected electronic medical records.

If you want proof that medical students at UC Irvine are succeeding by leveraging their iPads, just look at the first class participating in the iMedEd Initiative. They scored an average of 23 percent higher on their national exams, taken at the end of the second year of medical school, than previous UC Irvine medical school classes.

Moreover, students in a UCLA neurosurgery residency training program given tablets and access to a digital library of resources studied more outside their clinical hours and used the tablets more often than home or hospital PCs.

UC Irvine and UCLA are not alone in seeing the merits of tablet-based learning. Harvard and Yale have both made iPads part of their medical school curriculum, joining the likes of Brown, Stanford, and the University of Minnesota in providing the technology platforms to their students.

In the U.K., the University of Leeds School of Medicine was the first in that country to outfit all of its medical students with iPhones to record case notes while rounding in the hospital, keep electronic copies of reference materials, and stay current with medical guidelines. Not surprisingly, a recent online survey of medical students in the U.K. showed 79 percent owned a smartphone.

Here, in the U.S., nearly 70 percent of doctors use smartphones and 66 percent use tablets, according to InformationWeek's Healthcare IT 2012 Priorities Survey. As time goes by, mobile devices will no doubt be as ubiquitous as stethoscopes in the hands of current and future physicians, and with good reason. The amount of information needed by doctors has exploded and mobile devices are the most powerful and efficient platforms for giving them access to that information. - Greg (@Slabodkin)