Medical students taking free online courses in quality, safety
■ The Institute for Healthcare Improvement's curriculum stresses less-traditional topics of error reduction and resource management.
By Kevin B. O’Reilly — Posted May 4, 2009
About 4,000 medical students are taking classes on everything from measuring quality to using technology to prevent medical errors, but the training is not happening in medical schools.
Rather, it comes courtesy of free online courses offered by the Institute for Healthcare Improvement (link).
The classes are part of the Cambridge, Mass.-based nonprofit's Open School for Health Professions. The program, launched in September 2008, has registered 12,000 medical, nursing and other health sciences students. There are supplementary, student-led Open School chapters at 122 health-sciences schools in 12 countries.
IHI, widely respected for initiatives that have helped doctors and hospitals reduce infections and surgical complications, wants to help medical schools.
Already, four North American medical schools have used the IHI-developed educational content.
The Open School "is really needed to offer quality improvement and patient safety educational competencies to the next generation of health professionals so they have the tools to enter the work force as prepared and active participants in providing the best care for patients," said Jill Duncan, RN, MPH, director of the program.
"Many universities are starting to do this work in their curriculum, but change is slow in academic medicine. ... This is an opportunity for students to have access to this information and offers faculty the chance to integrate this work in any way they can," Duncan said.
So far, the Open School has rolled out six introductory courses that students can take online any time.
They cover topics such as how to set goals, collect and analyze data and implement system changes to improve quality; how teamwork and communication can reduce patient harm; and how "human factors" -- the design of medical equipment, signage and labels -- affect care.
IHI staffers developed the course content in consultation with some leading U.S. patient safety and quality experts.
Online resources include videos, podcasts, discussion groups and case studies.
Once a full course load is created, students can earn certificates to add to their resumes. For an advanced certificate, students must apply the principles to an improvement project in the clinical setting. IHI also is working to qualify the courses for continuing education credit.
Open School chapters meet regularly, and advocate for more coverage of quality and safety topics in medical school curricula.
Vineet Arora, MD, is a faculty adviser to the Open School chapter at the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine, where she is assistant dean for curricular innovation. She said the program is a welcome option for students and could encourage medical schools to offer more quality and safety material to their curricula.
"In addition to the formal coursework here at Pritzker, here's another great way to get structured resources and training from an organization that specializes in quality improvement," Dr. Arora said.
"As faculty, it takes the edge off of us a little bit, and it inspires us to really go forward and think about our next steps here," she added.
Caitlin Schaninger, a third-year medical student at the University of Chicago, is the student leader of its Open School chapter, which has 25 members. She said the program adds another dimension to her medical education.
"We're taught about topics in quality and safety [at the University of Chicago], but having the IHI Open School gets us more information about how you go about studying these issues," Schaninger said. "How do you go about formulating a hypothesis and testing it to make changes to improve quality and patient safety?"
U.S. medical educators said the fledgling IHI program reflects a broader effort to confront the nation's patient safety challenges by improving the training of doctors and other health professionals.
"Historically, medical schools have not taught these other sciences, things like human factors or error reduction and resources management," said David Mayer, MD, associate dean for curriculum at the University of Illinois College of Medicine at Chicago, which also boasts an Open School chapter. "That's changing now because the urgency of the problem has been exposed."