Leveraging digital technologies in training healthcare professionals: What are the key technologies, what is their added value and what are the success factors?

Published on 01 October 2019 Read 25 min

At the end of 2018, the French Ministry of Solidarity and Health announced the 10 priorities of the “My health 2022” plan (in French, “Ma santé 2022”). In March 2019, Minister Agnès Buzyn declared that “among the many initiatives, digital health faces immense challenges”, starting with the transformation of training models for healthcare professionals. In this context, Alcimed discusses three key technologies which offer new research and training approaches for doctors, nurses and other professionals: digital platforms and mobile applications, immersive technologies and big data.

Digital platforms and mobile applications: an opportunity to access state-of-the-art expertise in an interactive way

The reliable and efficient sharing of expertise, the importance of informal knowledge, and the need for fun and dynamic training are three drivers that foster the emergence of digital platforms or mobile applications for training purposes. They enable healthcare professionals to connect, share experiences and access targeted training programs. The associated value propositions are diverse and may include e-learning, a networking platform and a private social network.

These platforms and applications, which can be accessed around the clock, are not intended to replace face-to-face training but are rather a complementary pedagogical tool. Still, learning will only be effective if different conditions are met, starting with the high quality of the digital environment, the learner’s ability to concentrate, and finally their collaborative attitude in order to exchange with others to strengthen what they have learnt.

As an illustration, the French start-up Whaller provides a platform for creating secure and targeted social networks and theme-based communities, thus facilitating sector knowledge sharing. Orion, the French leader in post-graduate training for nurses, offers a panel of ten different courses on topics such as pain management or diabetes-specific nursing care in an e-learning format.

Despite the blossoming of an attractive offer, these tools have not yet been broadly adopted. As the report “Guide to e-learning” published by the French Health Agency (“Haute Authorité de Santé”) has shown in 2015, health professionals still rarely use e-learning tools.

Immersive technologies: learning through simulation and experience

Healthcare professionals are often confronted with complex situations, requiring not only strong responsiveness but also a certain creativity to rethink actions and practices to address the challenges they face. In this context, digital immersion in clinical scenarios and real-life situations, combined with discussions with colleagues on how to best approach them, can be very valuable. This immersion can be achieved through different types of programs: medical simulations, serious games[1], interactive clinical cases, virtual reality …

Immersive technologies are an attractive response to the above expectations and are booming: the global market for medical simulation, for example, was estimated at $1,132 million in 2017 and is expected to triple by 2025.

There are many examples of projects, such as the one of Sanofi Genzyme, which created the “Socrates Challenge”. The free site collects challenging interactive clinical cases for general practitioners to combat diagnostic errors in rare diseases and to facilitate the referral of these patients to expert centers to accelerate diagnosis and treatment.

Big Data: new keys to analysis and understanding for research

While the generation of health data is rapidly expanding – global health data is expected to increase by a factor of 50 by 2020, according to Orange Healthcare – there are still many unchartered territories in understanding epidemiological patterns, particularly in chronic, non-communicable diseases. Big data makes it possible to facilitate participatory research programs, particularly during data challenges that encourage actors from different disciplines to jointly explore open access data, so called “Open Big Data”.

Such an approach was used, for example, to create the Epidemium participatory research program which has generated 15 multidisciplinary research projects.

To summarize, one of the main advantages of digital technologies in training and research is that that they make knowledge, particularly very rare expertise, accessible at any time and in any place. Moreover, digital technologies can embed training documents or go much further by visualizing complex processes, generating a dynamic learning experience. However, the technologies proposed all have in common the aim of disrupting educational practices and approaches.

In order to facilitate this transition, five key success factors have to be taken into account:
–   Informed choice of tool according to the learning objective,
–   Creation of motivational conditions for continued, autonomous education,
–   Promotion of interaction as an integral part of the training,
–   Encouraging a good mix between face-to-face and virtual sessions,
–   Facilitation of the transfer of acquired skills into settings outside the platform or game.

“Digital technologies are not an end in themselves, but rather means that must serve the user and the objective of their chosen training. Such solutions also have to allow the trainer to optimize each moment of the training,” emphasizes Célia Nassif, Project Manager in Innovation and Public Health Policy at Alcimed.

[1] In “serious games” developers combine serious elements with playful elements to create a learning experience.


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