Don't ignore mobile technology when training your hospital staff

Hospital CIOs may soon have another use for all of those exciting mobile technologies they're using--tablets, smartphones, healthcare apps, remote patient monitoring, etc.: educating medical staff.

According to Chad Udell--managing director at mobile consulting company Float Mobile Learning, and co-author of the new report, "The Future of Mobile Learning in Medicine and Healthcare"--in pretty short order, hospital executives can expect to see far higher tech mobile learning tools, many of which will be based on technology already being used.

The biggest overall change, Udell tells FierceMobileHealthcare, will be the availability of more virtualization and simulation systems that physicians can use to learn new techniques, test their skills, and be evaluated on their performance. Similar to the way fighter pilots test their abilities in a flight simulator before going up in a multi-million dollar airplane, clinicians will be able to hone their skills on virtual patients, or in a simulated healthcare environment, before they actually put their hands on a live person.

The new technologies may ultimately change the way continuing medical education and other professional development credits are handled, although it's not clear yet just how, Udell says.

Nevertheless, some of the more intriguing options emerging from the mobile learning world--many of which already are in use in industries like construction and aviation--include:

Point-of-view recording devices: Embedded in glasses and contacts, such devices allow a physician's entire field of vision to be recorded and shared with others. For physician training, employees could watch a recording of an expert conducting an exam or an operation, and learn the nuances of proper procedures and techniques--almost first-hand--Udell says.

In contrast, staff also could wear the POV recording devices themselves, and stream their recordings to a consulting physician for real-time critique.

"You can tap into a consult with an expert who can work with you during a virtual surgery, watch what you're doing, and change the procedure if needed," Udell says.

Augmented reality: This new technology overlays text or images onto a video stream. For teaching, it can be invaluable to have diagrams of a procedure or text concerning the patient's condition overlaid on medical images of the affected body part.

"We're seeing this in auto mechanics," Udell says. "BMW has augmented video where the technician is able to see a video of how to approach a complicated repair with overlays, extra instructions," and more.

Wearable and ingestible sensors: Such sensors quickly are becoming a boon for healthcare treatment, but they also have a role in health education, according to the Float report. Remote monitoring sensors can provide streams of data--blood pressure, heart rhythms, sleep patterns, etc.--that physicians can use to diagnose, and even determine a treatment plan for a hypothetical patient, according to Udell.

The use of sensors also can parallel the kind of kinetic analysis measured in sports--like a golf pro having sensors attached to his body to collect data on his swing, Udell says. The idea: Staff can analyze the proper technique, ultimately obtaining fine details of an expert's process.

Ingestible sensors, too, can provide a bird's eye view of a body system, allowing staff to track a problem or learn about disease markers directly, rather than from a textbook.

Gesture recognition: The emerging technology of gesture recognition, most commonly associated with video game systems like the XBox Kinect, already is being used in surgery and other areas of health treatment. For physician education, it has two primary values:

  • First, educators can use the gesture recognition to move images on a large screen in a classroom, etc., without being stuck in front of a computer monitor and mouse, Udell says. Students, too, can approach the screen and identify anatomy, trace a surgical path or otherwise manipulate the image, again without the limitations of a laptop or PC.
  • On the testing side, gesture or motion recognition also may ultimately allow a physician to be evaluated on his performance of a task, such as an exam or surgical maneuver, in front of a gesture recognition system, according to Udell.

Haptic technology: You've probably experienced haptic device use if you've played a Nintendo Wii game, or taken a ride at an amusement park lately; it's forced feedback, where the user gripping a controller or sitting in a seat feels physical effects of his virtual actions. For example, the controller might shake and vibrate if a user drives off-road in a racing game. Flight simulators have long used this technology to mimic the pull and torque of a plane in motion.

In healthcare, haptic technology should prove valuable for teaching surgical and other procedures that "if done incorrectly in the real world, could have some dire consequences," Udell says. For example, a clinician could practice patient transfers on an armature that provides weight, balance and resistance, according to how correctly a maneuver is performed.

Do you think your medical staff is ready for higher-tech learning tools? Are you already using some? Let us know! - Sara