Thursday, December 4, 2008

Students learning from the patient's online voice

I've been thinking about how students can learn from accessing online communities which are publicly available.

I lead a project where students visit families who are hopefully in reasonably good health. The students are early in the course and we want their learning to be around individuals and families negotiating the choices (or lack of choice) they make with regards to their health and interaction with health services.

The assessment includes a 1500 word essay where they focus on a topic that particularly interested them when they were getting to know the families. The topics can be diverse as how social housing is managed in Cardiff, antenatal screening, or the impact of growing up in a multilingual environment. They are encouraged to compare the experience of the family to accounts in the literature, quantitative and qualitative, and to other families who are participating in the project who have had similar experiences. Students can ask their colleagues about the families they are visiting through a discussion board. As there are only 150 families in the project quite often students will come across issues which no other families have been through. I have suggested to students that they might look at publicly accessible community forums and see if the topics are being discussed there.

Since until this year the project only involved visiting families with new babies or young children, and young mothers can be quite active participants in forums such as mumsnet, babycentre and bounty, there has been lots of material for them to access if they wanted to. For example, last week a student said she wanted to explore cholestatis in pregnancy. I've searched and can't find any qualitative literature on the topic, but threads such as this on the bounty forum can give students many insights into how women perceive the investigation and management of the condition and the impact it has on their lives.

Students learn from the narratives of the patients they meet face-to-face in practice. This is central to medical education. It seems that there could be many valuable opportunities for students to learn from online patients as well.

What do you think? What problems could there be with this approach? What are the possibilities?

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