Teaching Medical Informatics Online

Article excerpt

Abstract

At Thomas Jefferson University, Academic Information Research and Services (AISR), has designed a required online Medical Informatics course for 230 first year medical students. The course is designed to demonstrate the need for lifelong-learning skills, to train students in how to ask the appropriate questions to find an answer to their information needs, and to instill an awareness of the various types of information sources available to them and the skills to use these resources. The entire medical informatics course is completed online. Each student must complete a computing survey, a pre-test, two case studies, and a post-test. A common misconception among both students and administration is that because students are now more familiar with searching due to the World Wide Web they are automatically able to also search the scientific literature for answers to their questions. Based on data from the computing surveys, post-course evaluations and the answers from one question from the case studies, this paper will demonstrate the continued need for teaching Medical Informatics to medical students, and their reactions to learning medical informatics online.

Introduction

During the second semester of their first year, all Thomas Jefferson University medical students participate in a three-week course called Medical Informatics. Medical Informatics is part of 'Jan (January) Plan', which also includes courses in Genetics, Health Care Policy, Ethics and Biostatistics. Medical Informatics is the only self-taught computer course.

The concept for 'Jan Plan' was developed in the late 1980's. Faculty and the curriculum committee felt there were increasing medical related concepts that students needed to learn about, but they did not fit into existing course structures. These five three-week courses were designed to provide a break period from the intensive workload required during the basic science courses and to introduce new medical aspects into the traditional first year medical school curriculum.

All students are required to attend an introductory lecture and are expected to complete the online course within a three-week period. In order to successfully pass the course, the student must complete the two assigned case studies and score 80 points or higher on the post-test. The course objectives and metrics are outlined below.

First Objective "An understanding of the need to engage in lifelong learning to stay abreast of relevant scientific advances." [1] Life-Long Learning is more than simple computer literacy. Life-Long Learning requires: the ability to recognize when you need additional information, the knowledge of where to go to obtain information, the ability to ask the proper question, and the skills to evaluate and act on the new information.

Second Objective "The ability to retrieve (from electronic databases and other resources), manage, and utilize biomedical information for solving problems and making decisions that are relevant to the care of individuals and populations." [1]

Third Objective "The ability to critically evaluate the medical literature and to seek opportunities to expand understanding and appreciation of scientific discoveries and their applications." [1]

Exposure to searching Medical Databases

Before beginning the online course each student is asked to complete a computing survey. Of the 230 students in the class, 211 responded, which produced some helpful data in teaching medical informatics. This survey instrument helps AISR analyze the class's general familiarity with different resources, potential skill level, and assist with planning the number of hands-on workshops that might be required. Oddly enough there are still significant differences in student skill levels year to year. Some students demonstrate effective searching skills and demonstrate extensive usage of medical databases, while other students lack experience. …