7 Ways the Telemedicine Industry Can Learn From Online Education

Telemedicine companies like Teledoc are disrupting the traditional patient experience.  Here are some examples of how online education could provide a way forward for telemedicine.

1. Annual satisfaction surveys can show increasing acceptance of new technologies.

Historically, online education has been viewed as inferior to classroom learning.  However, increasing numbers of academic leaders are rating learning outcomes for online learning as equal or better than learning outcomes for classroom learning.

2. Defining a market can help find the right customers.

Classroom learning may work reasonably well for traditional college students who just graduated from high school.  On the other hand, classroom learning is difficult for post-traditional students who are juggling career and family responsibilities.  Marketing online learning to post-traditional students fills a need for a growing segment of the market for higher education.  Similarly, telemedicine may not be for everyone.  However, it may fill a need for a subset of the healthcare market.  Also some degree programs work well in an online environment while other programs are better suited for classroom learning.  In the same way, telemedicine may work well for diagnosis and treatment of some conditions, but not others.

3. Use a long-term time horizon to evaluate new technologies.

When massive open online courses (MOOCs) began increasing in popularity, there were many critics who rejoiced when there was little evidence of disruption of higher education.  Those familiar with the Gartner hype cycle know that technologies experience unrealistic expectations and disillusionment before reaching maturity and productivity in the market.  Critics of online education who don't see fast change are missing the slow change that is passing them by.  The same trend may occur with telemedicine.

4. Use state authorization reciprocity agreements to manage out of state telemedicine visits between patient and doctor.

One of the challenges with online education comes when institutions admit students outside the state where the institution is located.  An institution with students in all 50 states would have to contact each state to get approval to teach students in that state.  Each state had different requirements, which makes compliance difficult.  One solution was the development of regional reciprocity agreements, where nearby states would allow institutions to teach online students in each state.  A new solution is a national state authorization reciprocity agreement, NC-SARA.  Each state applies to join the agreement.  Institutions in approved states apply for approval in their home state.  These institutions are now authorized in all states participating in the authorization agreement.

5. Every event in an online class is trackable and measurable.

Higher education and healthcare are experiencing a revolution in data analytics.  In the traditional classroom, there are few data points: assignments and exams.  In the online classroom, instructors can track the amount of time spent on learning activities, number and length of sessions (log-ins), interaction between student and instructor, and many other data points.  Information gathered from data analytics is improving the education of all students, not just online students.  As telemedicine improves, the ability to measure the interaction between the patient and physician will grow.  This information should help improve patient outcomes for all patients.

6. Being a subject matter expert is not the same thing as being an expert in the online user experience.

Instructors are subject matter experts.  Some instructors are not experts in classroom teaching.  Other instructors who are experts in classroom teaching are not experts in online teaching.  However, instructors can learn to become experts in online teaching.  Similarly, physicians that excel in interacting with patients in a healthcare setting may need training to provide quality patient care in an online setting.

7. Combine online and face to face experiences to optimize the user experience.

Many students enjoy blended or hybrid classes that combine classroom learning and online learning.  Current technology allows instructors to provide information to students when they need the information and communicate with students between class sessions.  Students also have the opportunity to learn on their schedule and get feedback between class sessions.  Physicians could offer telemedicine as an added service to their current patients between office visits.

While there are many challenges ahead for telemedicine, this is a truly exciting time in healthcare.  I hope healthcare leaders and policy makers will learn from the lessons of online and distance education.


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