How this university is teaching telehealth during coronavirus

Higher ed should—and can easily—pursue telehealth education now even while students and professors are remote, says university telehealth director

The massive impact that the coronavirus has made on the healthcare industry (and the world) will most likely lead to higher ed institutions making telehealth education a required part of medical curricula and quickly, says Tina Gustin, co-director of the Center for Telehealth Innovation, Education & Research (C-TIER) at Old Dominion University in Virginia. “Now is the perfect time for colleges and universities to start teaching telehealth services and to get creative with how they design these courses since everyone is already working remotely.”

For example, professors can teach students proper etiquette for virtual encounters when providing telehealth services, which is the provision of healthcare remotely using telecommunications technology. “When most students host virtual meetings, their background is usually wrong, they don’t know where to look, their eye gaze is poor and they don’t realize that they should mute their computer when they aren’t speaking,” Gustin says. “Teaching telehealth etiquette is easy to deploy remotely.”

Zoom and other commonly used video-conferencing platforms are secure enough for telehealth education. “There are more robust platforms with dashboards that allow users to schedule medical visits, view patient notes, check their demographic information and browse their medical history, but they are too costly for students to practice on,” says Gustin.

Teaching telehealth services virtually and remote patient monitoring

While learning remotely, Old Dominion students can’t access the university’s medical equipment, so professors are having students perform assessments on family members. For example, students can check for strep throat by having patients on a videoconferencing platform hold their smartphone to their mouth and turn on the flashlight feature. “You can see into the patient’s mouth this way just as well as you can in person,” says Carolyn Rutledge, another co-director of C-TIER at Old Dominion.

Related: What you should know about providing telehealth during campus closures

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Before the coronavirus, Old Dominion medical students learning telehealth services did field work at hospitals to perform remote patient monitoring, which involves patients meeting with doctors or nurses virtually. Patients who are in these programs have tablet-like devices for communicating with their doctor or nurse and bluetooth-enabled equipment, such as stethoscopes, blood pressure cuff glucometers and high-definition cameras that can send data to their hospitals.

Now, most hospitals only allow one Old Dominion student to meet with one medical provider in a clean environment to assess these patients virtually. An Old Dominion professor who wants to assess these sessions have “had to get creative” by FaceTiming the student simultaneously, for instance.

“Schools that are providing clinical academic programs must realize that healthcare will never go back to business as usual,” says Gustin, “and should therefore incorporate telehealth into the curriculum.”

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