Since the onset of the COVID-19 healthcare crisis, I’ve connected with many healthcare professionals (HCPs) to discuss the issues they have faced on the frontlines. HCPs have experienced unparalleled challenges on all fronts, yet one area that’s been under-discussed in the wake of these challenges is their educational opportunities.
In surgery, a wave of digitization, combined with limited in-person opportunities, has disrupted the educational ecosystem as we know it, resulting in a paradigm shift as surgeons were forced to adapt, whether they were ready or not.
I recently connected with bariatric surgeon Joe Northup, MD, FACS, FASMBS, and orthopaedic surgeon Lam Nguyen, MD, to discuss how the digitization of education is transforming the industry, and how virtual offerings such as telementoring have afforded new opportunities for surgeons across all levels.
Change always comes with advantages and pitfalls
The pandemic has led to significant changes in continuing medical education (CME), primarily because it disrupted the avenues in which surgeons generally improve their skills. “Training courses, educational conferences and annual national meetings were all cancelled, which made it difficult to connect with others to learn new knowledge and skills the traditional way,” says Dr. Nguyen.
As HCPs were forced to adjust, learning methods evolved with them, leading to the development of exciting new remote offerings. Emerging technologies such as VR (virtual reality), AR (augmented reality) and telementoring became commonplace out of necessity, powering anytime, anywhere training.
Virtual learning methods have been able to solve some of the challenges to surgical education that stemmed from the pandemic. With COVID-19 leading to a decline in the number of elective surgeries, early career surgeons have missed out on the repetition of procedures that would allow them to hone their skills. VR and AR have helped bridge that gap by offering surgeons a chance to practice simulated surgery in a remote environment.
“As an established surgeon, I don’t feel as though my skills diminished too much by a few months of not operating, says Dr. Northup. “But for new surgeons in their first few years, however, it might be a different story. Building surgical and patient evaluation skills early in your career is essential to long-term success, and newer practitioners have been hurt by recent low volumes of procedures. There’s a significant need to continue to build surgical and patient evaluation skills via virtual educational and interactive instructions.”
The future of surgical education is a hybrid model
This shift toward virtual training has another clear benefit: it can be accessed anytime, anywhere. This amounts to nothing short of a revolution in how we approach CME.
Many surgeons are excited about the future of surgical learning and the flexibility and personalization afforded by virtual offerings. That being said, there are certain intangible benefits of in-person interaction between HCPs. A hybrid model will allow the flexibility for HCPs to customize their learning opportunities to suit their needs.
“I’d love to see a return to in-person meetings, as I think we all miss that personal interaction that can truly help us improve patient care,” says Dr. Northup. “I do think that most meetings will be hybrid, where most will attend in person, but some will watch virtually. Covering surgeons, especially those who are primarily general surgeons, would particularly benefit from the virtual format, as it will provide CME and training with minimal impact to their practice.”
Telementoring as a solution
With these learnings in mind, our Global Education Solutions team at the Johnson & Johnson Institute was proud to create and deploy its telementoring pilot program. Since its launch in Q2 of 2020, the pilot has been tested by physicians from a variety of specialties, enabling them to enhance their surgical skills through intraoperative education activities. “The telementoring platform has allowed me to connect with surgeons, educational staff, and the leadership team at DePuy Synthes efficiently and seamlessly,” says Dr. Nguyen.
This innovative offering provides real-time, intra-operative access to experts through multiple camera feeds, telestration, and two-way audio. The unique technology has enabled surgeons to virtually collaborate across regions, expanding access to experts and opportunities for learning, and empowering them to break down educational barriers. Furthermore, the pilot has driven new technology and procedure adoption. Participating surgeons find that it closely replicates the in-person educational experiences they’ve missed during the pandemic.
“I think that telementoring will become a major method for training, OR staff, surgeons in-training, and surgeons in-practice, and reps across the globe since it will be able to bypass many of restrictions of traditional teaching, such as traveling expenses, time constraints, and in-person OR visitation limitations and exposure,” said Dr. Nguyen.
We’ve just begun to tap into the potential and accessibility of virtual training. Now is the time to think about how it can help your practice evolve, and the opportunities telementoring provides to help offer guidance to the next generation of surgeons.