Technology Companies Spurring a Revolution in Medical Education

Over the next decade the United States will face a shortage of doctors, according to a survey conducted by the Association of American Medical Colleges in 2012. By 2015, there will be a shortage of 62,900 doctors, and by 2020, the shortage will rise to 91,500.

The association, therefore, is calling for a 30% increase in new medical students in the country. According to Leo Sun of The Motley Fool, three big technology giants including Apple, Google and Intel could help revolutionize medical education by providing physicians with access to more efficient training tools to help satisfy rising demand.

When we combine that shortage with the millions of Americans who are now insured under Obamacare along with the rise of age-related diseases like diabetes, the unmet need becomes clear — we need more medical students immediately.

In response to the association’s call, the country’s medical schools have expanded their training programs to embrace technology, but teaching hospitals are also at risk from Medicare cuts in the future. Every year, Medicare contributes about $9.5 billion to teaching hospitals to cover the training costs of new physicians.

In hospitals, Apple’s iPad is the most frequently used tablet. It is often paired with electronic health record, or EHR, systems and to access popular medical reference apps like athenahealth’s Epocrates.

The University of California Irvine’s iMedEd initiative distributes medical students custom loaded iPads that can access all their textbooks electronically — a powerful medical training tool.

According to the school, students participating in the iMedEd initiative scored 23% higher than previous classes on the national exams taken at the end of the second year of medical school. This convergence of tech and health care at the training phase of a new generation of physicians could solidify the iPad’s dominance of the medical industry.

Students use iPads to access online learning materials, podcasts of lectures, and collaborative instructional materials from peers and instructors. They can also use iPads to record readings from digital stethoscopes, ultrasound units, and other medical devices. They can also practice accessing and analyzing EHRs.

Google Glass, a wearable, optical computer, is a looming threat for the iPad, but may be a giant leap for medical schools and hospitals.

A lot of excitement is brewing for the use of Google Glass as a medical tool. Surgeons have streamed live surgeries via its camera to students, and start-ups like Augmedix are already developing augmented reality medical apps. Qualcomm and Palomar Medical even started an idea incubator, Glassomics, which is focused on exploring the applications of wearable technology like Glass in health care.

In addition to Google Glass, Google’s low-end notebook computer, Chromebook, also has proven valuable. Chromebooks are cheap — starting at $200 — and depend entirely on cloud-based connections to Google’s robust ecosystem of web apps. For medical schools that cannot afford a $500 to $900 iPad, or aren’t willing to wait around for Glass to be released, the Chromebook can offer many of the same medical education services — textbooks, podcasts, group collaborated materials — at a fraction of the price.

Intel’s high-end Ultrabooks starting at $1,000 failed miserably, but that setback didn’t stop the company from following Apple and Google into the health care industry. In July 2013, Intel formed a partnership with Ebix, a software and e-commerce services provider, to launch the A.D.A.M. Health Content Exchange, a set of new medical training programs designed exclusively for Ultrabooks.

The A.D.A.M. Health Content Exchange is an extension of Ebix’s other health care products, which also include an enterprise health information platform which connects consumers and health care professionals. The company plans to expand its services into health care education by hiring in-house educators and medical writers to create exclusive cloud-based content that can be offered on an on-demand basis.

As demand for better medical training technology increases, medical schools and hospitals will be faced with some interesting choices. Should they adopt the firmly established iPad or the experimental but possibly revolutionary Google Glass? Should they purchase cheap, no-frills Chromebooks, or those powerful new Ultrabooks? We are standing at a crossroads where a shortage of doctors, a rise in patients, and possible budget cuts intersect. What happens next could define the digital tools for the next age of medical education and patient care.