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Health Profession Schools Need To Better Prepare Students for Mobile & Connected Health Technologies

Houston, TX

Jing Wang, PhD, MPH, MSN, RN, of University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston School of Nursing, discusses the current state of mobile and connected health technologies and its impact on health professions education.

Millions of people in the United States are now using mobile apps and wearable devices to track their health, a trend that will only grow. By 2018, experts predict that more than 19 million patients will be using connected home health monitoring technologies.

As the field of mobile and connected health technologies grows and evolves, it will bring many new and exciting opportunities to health and health care. First, it will promote precision health. Inexpensive mobile apps and sensors help health professionals capture patient activities at home or in the community on a daily basis. New lifestyle and environmental data, we’ve never had access to before in clinical practice, will help us better understand patients in a more precise way.

Second, it will transform population health. Such transformation will significantly impact primary care, transitions of care, and care for the growing aging population who would like to age at their own homes. All of the data that come from things like smart phones, Fitbits and other technologies offer us the ability to pinpoint where care is needed most and support patients transiting from homes to hospitals, or vice versa. We can aggregate large amounts of patient information and monitor trends in community health, allowing local health care institutions to develop preventive strategies that keep patients well. On the other side, data from these new devices can also help patients better manage their own care, in particular, seniors who are aging at their own homes can use these devices to better manage their chronic conditions and prevent emergency room visits. 

And finally, mobile and connected health technologies provide a unique opportunity to facilitate team-based, patient-centered care in both the clinical and classroom setting. Students across the health professions can use new tools and monitoring devices to gain access to the same health data and work together, over time, to serve the same patients. True patient-centered care involves knowing patient behaviors at home and in the community; mobile and connected health technologies give us the opportunity to practice patient-centered care to the fullest potential.

The bottom line, the health technology field is here to stay and health care professionals need to adapt. That applies to health professions educators too. Today, health professions students are not adequately trained on new mobile and connected health technologies and how they can be integrated into practice. We expect our students to graduate and interact with patients who use these new tools, but we don’t properly train them to understand the benefits and limitations they bring to the table.

To prepare our future workforce, students need to know when and how new tools and devices should be used in care, and be ready to serve the increasing number of patients bringing the devices to clinical visits.

Building new curriculums to educate students on mobile and connected health technologies must be a priority for all health professions schools. Curriculums will also need to evolve just as quickly as the field evolves. This is not going to be the same content every year.

In the future it will also be important that we address issues of usability and interoperability. Students will need to be able to efficiently use these devices in a way that improves workflow without taking time away from caring for the patient, and leverage new connected health systems so that a patient’s data history can be accessed across care settings.

In the end, this is not a tech issue. This is a patient issue.

Today, health professions schools are increasingly adding informatics and population health into the curriculum. However, most programs are not specifically targeting and honing in on the skills students will need to be able to navigate this changing landscape. This can’t just be taught during a lecture; students need to see and experience how and when new connected health technology tools can be used.

As a Macy Faculty Scholar, I am developing a team-based curriculum on mobile and connected health technologies that will engage six health science schools at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, along with our clinical, community, and technology development partners. Starting this Fall, students from the different health professions will form teams and analyze the need for mobile and connected health tools in their chosen setting—either a primary care clinical setting or an aging-in-place community-based setting—and design a mobile or connected health project. Identifying the need for these new tools and devices comes first, and will be what grounds the new curriculum. I want to challenge my students and get them to think outside the box. That, in the end, is what will help them become better providers.

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