The St. Luke’s Medical Center College of Medicine - William H. Quasha Memorial (SLMC-CM WHQM) is collaborating with SeeYouDoc to help equip future physicians with the telemedicine knowledge and skills that they will need in order to serve society as future health providers. Through this partnership, the health services platform has created a dedicated educational environment for the telemedicine training of medical students.

Integrating telemedicine into the medical curriculum and into the broader and evolving practice of medicine has a lot of benefits, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.  “Every time people are together in the same place and same time, even with precautions, there is still some amount of risk,” says Malaya Santos, MD, MPH, FPDS, the Head of the Medical Education Unit of SLMC-CM. Being able to provide care virtually, according to her, would in turn, widen access to healthcare, lessen travel costs for patients who would be coming from far distances, and give them safety in this time of pandemic.

Dr. Santos has high hopes for this collaboration that benefits both parties mutually. While the medical institution gets to have access to a dedicated telemedicine training platform, the shared learnings and experience together with SeeYouDoc will help the pioneering e-health company improve their healthcare delivery platform.

Stethoscope and Laptop Computer. Laptop computers and other kinds of mobile devices and communications technologies are of increasing importance in the delivery of health care. Photographer Daniel Sone
Telemedicine programs in medical schools can help equip future doctors for virtual consultations to treat their patients. Photo by National Cancer Institute / Unsplash

Bridging gaps

“Telemedicine has already existed prior to the COVID pandemic,” Dr. Santos lays out, “but in the local setting, it was not yet ‘mainstream.' The traditional practice with regard to health service delivery was still more prevalent, requiring the patient to come to the doctor to be seen and examined in the face-to-face setting.” However, in other settings abroad, particularly where patients are spread out over large distances, telemedicine has long been used as an effective way to provide quality healthcare while minimizing costs and need for travel.

Seeing these benefits even before the virus hit, St. Luke’s had already been looking to integrate telemedicine and online teaching into their curriculum. Our original plan was a more gradual, phased transition,” she explains. But because of the rapidly changing situation and the government-mandated community quarantines, they were forced to accelerate their plans.

Future-proof healthcare

“As a medical school, our aim is to prepare our graduates to meet the priority health needs of society.” Says Dr. Santos. “SLMC-CM’s recalibrated program hopes to help our country’s future doctors build the skill set they will need to provide telemedicine care as part of health care in the future. This includes taking a clinical history and doing a (limited) physical examination effectively in a virtual setting."

In addition to telemedicine, students will also be learning other competencies needed to practice medicine in the digital age, such as the principles of data privacy, evidence-based medicine, and the skills needed to access and appraise the latest scientific research and clinical practice guidelines. These, the passion for life-long learning, and connectivism, which helps health professionals build a network where they can share learnings with one another, are what would make the next generation of physicians successful in their field and able to provide the best care possible to their patients.

Facing roadblocks

Telemedicine is a convenient solution to many of our pressing issues, but “the caveat is that not everything can be done via telemedicine,” Dr. Santos admits. Consultations to address common health concerns and limited physical examinations can be performed to an extent, but there are still certain procedures and maneuvers that can only be done in the face-to-face setting. This, therefore, requires that health professionals develop the ability to triage and categorize which concerns can be addressed virtually and which ones require an in-person visit.

More than that, another set of issues pop up in terms of integrating telemedicine into the curriculum at this accelerated pace. The doctors teaching the students have to learn e-health principles and practices right at the same time. And in this era of social distancing, it’s harder to teach these skills via remote learning. “Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the more ideal way to teach telemedicine was by having the student together with the teacher and just have the patient on the other end, but we don’t have that luxury now,” Dr. Santos laments. Not having the instructing doctor and the student at the same place makes things difficult as teaching through “a screen where the instructor is facing 10 or more learners, you don’t see visual cues, you are not able to give feedback the way that you normally would,” she details.

St. Luke's College of Medicine building
The facade of St. Luke’s Medical Center College of Medicine - William H. Quasha Memorial. Photo from stlukesmedcollege.edu.ph‌‌

Of course, on top of it all, the gadgets and connectivity these technological learning requires aren’t accessible to all. “We have to take into consideration that our learners have cost and access issues,” Dr. Santos points out.

Creating solutions

Still, despite these challenges, we all have to adapt to the changing times. They’re striving to leave no one behind, says Dr. Santos, “this is true for faculty, students, and even patients.” And this is where the St. Luke’s Medical Center College of Medicine and SeeYouDoc's partnership is especially beneficial. “When you need to leverage  technology to provide quality education, you would generally have to invest a lot of resources. Unfortunately, the often unintended consequence is the impact on access because this often adds to the cost of education,” she expounds, and working together with SeeYouDoc helps greatly in driving down the cost, at least in the educational setting.

With the dedicated environment the platform provides for SLMC-CM teachers and students, our future health professionals get access to a broader digital ecosystem where they are able to learn digital skills. And in the bigger picture, through the input from SLMC-CM, SeeYouDoc can further improve on their health services to benefit even more Filipino doctors and patients across the country and even the globe.