Learning the Art of Telemedicine

By Kelly Rhone, MD, FACEP

Published on August 20, 2020

The practice of medicine has long been known for lifelong learning. As we continue down the path from student to teacher, we understand more that we will always have to continue to learn and adapt to new knowledge, new treatments, new diseases and new technology. Even as we become the teacher, in many respects we will always be students to continue to give the best care for our patients.

I began to teach medical students telemedicine curriculum several years ago. And while I felt like I was improving on their knowledge, I really wanted to prove that this was a worthwhile endeavor for my students and that they were learning from it. I also wanted to understand how I needed to change the curriculum in order to meet their needs for the future.

Telehealth has come to the forefront in 2020 with the COVID-19 pandemic. While telehealth has been around for many years, it has evolved as technology and medicine itself has evolved. In 2016, the American Medical Association (AMA) publicly adopted a policy aimed at ensuring medical students and residents are properly educated on the use of telemedicine in clinical practice. It is imperative that medical education adapts and continues to teach and use these technologies in order for our students and faculty to be able to effectively use these skills in clinical practice.

Benefits of Telehealth

Telehealth benefits include improved access to care, cost efficiencies, improved quality and consumer satisfaction. Now in the setting of COVID-19, we have also seen the benefit of decreased transmission of disease as well as being able to care for patients in their home setting effectively.

Most of today’s students have grown up in the digital age, never knowing a time without internet, electronic medical records (EMRs) or cellular technology. But some students, and many faculty members, may feel uncomfortable with telehealth visits and many don’t understand how to conduct them legally and effectively.

Just as there is an art to medicine, there is an art to telemedicine. In addition, the ever-changing landscape of technology as well as regulatory, legal and ethical considerations create complexities that make adopting this form of practice overwhelming for some. Formal training is still necessary to provide high-quality medical care through telemedicine or other forms of health care technology.

Telemedicine Expansion During COVID-19

In 2020, the arrival of COVID-19 disrupted health care at its core, and providers and patients relied on telemedicine in never-before-seen numbers to care for patients and avoid exposure to the virus. In addition, reimbursement and regulatory law relaxation allowed for massive expansion of telemedicine during this time. This has caused an absolute revolution in health care.
In the meantime, medical students went to largely online learning for a few months due to personal protective equipment (PPE) shortages and uncertainty in safety. This has made efforts in teaching in large groups somewhat difficult for the near future as well.

At the same time, Avera eCARE has worked with Harvard and telehealth leaders from throughout the country to perform a Delphi analysis of the competencies needed for effective telemedicine education.

The American Board of Telehealth will offer this certificate course in an online, self-paced format. This will be CORE (Clinical, Operational, Regulatory and Ethics) content which will be pertinent to medical students as well as other providers and staff to learn for the practice of telemedicine.

This format allows participants to learn in a self-paced environment, but also allows for social distancing during this time. I invite you to read the syllabus and course description.

About the Author

Kelly Rhone, MD, FACEP, is Avera eCARE Medical Director – Outreach and Innovation and serves on the American Board of Telehealth. This is the first in a series of blogs by American Board of Telehealth board members.