Mobile apps aid learning and practicing medicine
One of the great challenges of medical education is imparting a level of practical skills that equals and complements the strong didactic learning students get during medical school. Clinical rotations, patient simulators, patient “actors” — even anatomical dissection — are among many methods of teaching these sensory skills, yet graduating U-M Medical School students have reported in exit interviews that they lack full confidence in their hands-on abilities.
Now mobile apps have joined the skill-based educational arsenal, merging learning with convenience as technology continues to provide new avenues for reaching students and maximizing learning opportunities. Waiting for a bus? Why not challenge yourself to learning heart sounds? Your smart phone is probably in your hand anyway.
Professor Emeritus of Cardiology Richard Judge (M.D. 1951, Residency 1957) and Medical School Media Services Manager Chris Chapman have collaborated on several projects that use technology to improve learning and skill acquisition. One of those projects included a Web-based interface for learning heart sounds, providing 24 well-known variations to help students learn to distinguish among them.
The heart sound challenge was widely used but not very portable. With the iPhone, the smart phone of choice for a majority of students, Chapman saw the opportunity to bring portability to the challenge, and at the same time ramp up student engagement by adding game-like qualities — a technological world it’s safe to call familiar to most students.
Learning to distinguish among the different sounds the heart makes is difficult to master. “We needed to create an environment where someone would listen to something over and over, and not make it boring,” Chapman says. With the help of Bruce Maxim, associate professor of computer and information science at U-M Dearborn, who teaches a course in game development — and his students — Chapman, Judge and colleagues worked out an initial design. Maxim’s students did the programming. “We performed usability testing throughout the process,” Chapman adds. “Students liked it, and they kept going until they could identify the sounds and get a perfect score.”
The Heart Sounds Challenge app was released on iTunes in August 2011. “We’ve learned that we’re good at teaching science, but less good at teaching skills,” Judge says. But given the success of the Web-based version at the U-M, now also in use at Dartmouth Medical School, Chapman and Judge are excited about the possibilities of the app for anywhere, anytime skill-building.
“Using a program like this helped me gain confidence in my ability to use my stethoscope,” says Erin Strong. “As a third-year student who sees patients, I know I’m being judged by the residents on my skills as well as the confidence I project.”
The iPhone’s younger sibling, the iPad, provides residents the essentials needed for education, patient care and other functions in the Department of Anesthesiology — the first residency program to use a paperless environment.
There are apps for patients, too. UMSkinCheck allows users to complete and store a full body photographic library, track detected moles and lesions, access informational videos and literature, and fill out a melanoma risk calculator. —SUSAN TOPOL
For a complete list of U-M mobile apps, visit mobileapps.its.umich.edu/apps.