Integration of digital health technology curriculum with medical education

*Dr Apurva Jain highlights that the incorporation of digital education into medical education allows medical students to get familiar with technology-driven healthcare practices early in their careers giving them the opportunity to develop relevant skills and mindset right from their initial days

Education must constantly be upgraded for it to stay relevant.

Recently, the Maharashtra University of Health Sciences (MUHS) introduced a foundation curriculum on digital health for its 40,000+ medical students across 450 colleges making it the first state in the country to do so.

The benefits of digitalisation in healthcare have been established globally. Various initiatives are now under way world-wide to increase its adoption. In this context, the Ayushman Bharat Digital Health Mission aims to provide the country with a robust and integrated infrastructure for stepwise transition towards healthcare digitalisation. However, it is well recognised that the success of any policy initiative is intricately tied to its acceptance and adoption by the very stakeholders. Reaping maximum benefits of digital transformation in the healthcare sector necessitates a deep understanding of its implications within the medical fraternity.

Last year, the National Health Authority proposed a two-years master’s program in digital health for medical and related professionals with the aim of bridging the gap between medicine and technology. Numerous standalone courses or certifications on digital health or health informatics are also offered by some management and engineering institutes. However, these are to be pursued voluntarily and separately. An approach of introducing digital health curriculum into medical education differs significantly from standalone programs in several ways.

Incorporation of digital education into medical education allows medical students to get familiar with technology-driven healthcare practices early in their careers giving them the opportunity to develop relevant skills and mindset right from their initial days. Integration of technology with healthcare thus becomes second nature to them reducing resistance to adoption later. In addition, getting acquainted with medical relevance of various technologies from the very beginning provides them with ample time and opportunities to explore the potential benefits and limitations.

In recent times startups and tech companies have started introducing healthcare professionals to digital health technologies. However, their training primarily focusses on immediate benefits and increasing practical utilisation of their product, often overlooking several important aspects related to ethics, validation, and key considerations. At such times, introducing digital health early becomes even more important so that medical professionals can critically analyse the potential risks and complexities of using digital health. An integrated formal education offers a structured approach providing a comprehensive understanding of benefits, risks, and its mitigation.

Given these factors, other states and medical universities should also explore the integration of a digital health curriculum into their medical education. The healthcare professionals in the country have been operating in a non-digitalised way since years and introducing them to this knowledge and approach from the beginning is an excellent initial stride.

However, such integration of digital health technology with medical education shall be done thoughtfully to avoid burdening the already demanding medical syllabus. To begin with, learning options can be flexible and can be made available through a variety of formats, such as online modules, workshops, seminars, and experiential learning opportunities to allow students to engage with the material at their own pace. Clinically most relevant digital health concepts can be prioritised. Emphasis can be on practical application rather than theoretical learning.

As an alternative to adding an additional new course, integrating digital health concepts into existing courses can be considered. Education on telemedicine can be imparted while students are interacting with patients in their rotational postings. Ethical implications of using AI-driven solutions to interpret radiographs can be discussed in radiology classes. Use of daily data from remote patient monitoring tools to track the progress of chronic diseases or use of 3D visualisation tools to assist surgery planning can be touched upon in medicine and surgery classes respectively. Another example could be using community medicine classes to discuss the use of analytics to predict public health.

While educating the coming generation of medical professionals can be ensured through upgrades to the current curriculum, the already graduated professionals can be upskilled for digital literacy through Continuing Medical Education sessions where participation can be monitored during renewal of medical license.

Much as technological innovations shall not overshadow the human acumen and development of their medical skills, digital literacy is indispensable to keep up with the pace of changing times. Introducing digital healthcare early in the curriculum ensures that the professionals are flexible to embrace changes and fluent with integration of novel technological practices in their clinical workflows. However, the depth and focus on digital health should be balanced such that the content remains relevant and comprehensive while not overwhelming the core medical curriculum.

*Dr Apurva Jain currently working in the areas of digital health at a leading technology company has graduated as a Bachelor in Dental Surgery from the Maharashtra University of Health Sciences and has a Masters in Public Health Policy from the esteemed Tata Institute of Social Sciences

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