Mobile Technology May Influence Medical School Training

More medical students may see the addition of mobile devices to preclinical education.

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Mobile devices, such as smartphones and tablets, have become more prevalent in medical school programs.
Mobile devices are becoming more prevalent in medical school programs.

The proliferation of mobile and electronic technologies, both in the United States and overseas, has changed the way medicine is practiced, affecting both physicians and medical students. How would this affect your medical school experience?

The New York Times recently reported on ways that mobile technologies have increased access to healthcare advice in remote areas of the world, such as villages in central Africa. Even in the United States, the use of technologies to reach patients in remote or rural locations has become very important for maintaining access to healthcare, particularly for specialty care. Many medical schools have taken notice.

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Johns Hopkins University's School of Public Health has spearheaded an initiative to implement these technologies—mHealth, or mobile health—involving both faculty and medical students on approximately 51 projects looking into the potential impact of these technologies in healthcare delivery, particularly in less developed areas of the world. The school has initiated courses, as a result, on the impact of these technologies on global healthcare.

Harvard Medical School has also offered an opportunity for both students and faculty to conduct field studies and discuss studies based on cases from Rwanda involving the use of mHealth. Medical students now have a chance to not only navigate this new mobile-integrated system but also to participate in patient care; in addition, they communicate among each other and other professionals through a global health online community.

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For medical students across the United States, mHealth has the potential to transform the landscape of clinical training in the following ways.

Addition of mobile devices to preclinical education: To optimize education and be more environmentally friendly, some medical schools have been giving students options to receive educational materials through mobile devices. The Boston Globe reported that Yale University intends to issue mobile devices to medical students, and Harvard plans to offer the option for students to receive materials via paper or a mobile device.

Introducing mobile patient tracking in third year clinical experiences: Harvard is also in the process of integrating mobile devices into the medical school clinical years. The school is involved in launching an app, compatible with most smartphones or tablet devices, allowing third year medical students to track patient encounters and faculty to subsequently review them in a secure manner.

Although the use of mobile technologies in healthcare delivery is relatively new, in the future it is likely to become a widely adopted tool used by physicians to enhance patient care. As more medical schools integrate tools such as mHealth, these new technologies could have a significant impact on the future of medical education as well.

Ibrahim Busnaina, M.D. is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and coauthor of "Examkrackers' How to Get Into Medical School." He has been consulting with prospective medical school applicants, with a special focus on minority and other nontraditional candidates, since 2006.