The University of Leeds is loaning smartphones to all fourth and fifth year medical students, giving them 24/7 remote access to progress files, assessment modules, and educational materials.
This will be the first time that a UK medical school has provided undergraduates with all the tools they need to study off-campus via mobile phone technology.
Under the pioneering scheme, 520 medical students will be loaned an iPhone 3GS 16GB for the remainder of their course. At this stage of the Leeds medical degree, undergraduates typically spend much of their time in local NHS hospitals, GP surgeries and community health clinics. They can find it difficult to keep in regular contact with tutors and have to carry around any reference manuals or record books that they might need during their work placement.
Both of these problems will now be resolved. The smartphones will be pre-loaded with a range of dedicated 'apps' that will let students record notes on interesting cases whilst still on the wards, and test their knowledge of procedures or protocols they have just observed. Copies of key medical textbooks and reference works, including up-to-date guidelines on administering prescription drugs, will also be distributed as iPhone apps. A range of other relevant medical apps that can be downloaded free-of-charge or purchased will be provided too.
The package includes unlimited mobile broadband connectivity from O2, so that students can keep in regular contact with their University tutors via email. Student accommodation sites at Airedale, Calderdale, Huddersfield and Harrogate will be equipped with wireless networks to support 24/7 access to the online resources. The phone and text function will be available on a pay-as-you-go basis.
Infection control is another driving force behind the scheme. The iPhones can be kept clean using antiseptic wipes, unlike notepads, loose-leaf folders and textbooks, which could harbour germs, including the so-called hospital superbug MRSA.
"This is a fantastic scheme and one that Leeds should be proud of. By equipping our students with smartphones, we are putting a whole suite of training tools and educational resources in the palm of their hand," said Professor David Cottrell, Dean of the School of Medicine at the University of Leeds.
"In the past I've had to borrow copies of the British National Formulary [the prescribing manual used by doctors] from the wards I'm working on. Then I've had to go find a place to sit down and take a note from it, and then carry it back to its home - all of which takes up valuable time in a practice setting. Having the entire handbook at my fingertips on the iPhone will be so much more efficient," said Claire Bird, a fourth year medical student at the University of Leeds.
The sight of smartphones on the wards is no longer uncommon. Mobile phone technology is increasingly being used by doctors and healthcare workers, and the range of medical apps is growing. As an example of this trend, more than three million doctors have downloaded an app that turns an iPhone into a stethoscope.
"No other UK medical school is taking advantage of the virtual learning environment to such an extent," said Professor Trudie Roberts, Professor of Medical Education at the University of Leeds. "It is vitally important that medical students continue to develop their skills and record their progress when they are in practice, as well as when they are on campus. Mobile phone technology means that students can do this quickly and easily, wherever they happen to be working."
Students will not be able to access confidential patient databases from their iPhones and any case notes added to progress files will be anonymised. Any phones that are reported lost or stolen will be wiped and disabled remotely. All devices are to be returned to the medical school before students graduate.
"Patient safety has been our primary aim in this development," said Dr Richard Fuller, Director of the University of Leeds MBChB course. "By linking workplace learning and assessment in mobile technology formats, we have a groundbreaking opportunity to provide instant, timely and detailed feedback to students in practice from patients, peers and clinical staff. By recording this feedback, it allows students to review, plan and 'feed-forward' with tutors to ensure their development as safe, effective doctors."
The University of Leeds is working with four commercial partner companies on this project: Telefonica O2, Apple, MyKnowledgeMap and Medhand.
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