Khan Academy, Medical Ed, and Patient Engagement #ICRE2014 #MEDX

One of the things needed for successful patient engagement is education. Patients need to understand various aspects of their medical condition and system in order to be engaged patients.

Today, I was reminded of the International Conference on Residency Education (ICRE), as many tweets crossed my twitter stream. I then was surprised to learn that the keynote were speakers from the Khan Academy (sad to learn that they didn’t permit live streaming of their talk, so I couldn’t watch it online). I continue to be amazed at the great presence of medical educators on twitter – especially during conference. I can learn a lot just by tapping into the twitter stream.

I decided that I’d take a look at the Health and Medicine category (under Science on the iPad) on the Khan Academy to see if anything was of interest / use to me – a patient with breast cancer. I found two that I thought might be of interest (1) “lab values and concentrations” and “Health Care System“.

First, I reviewed “lab values and concentrations“. I went to it looking to better understand my lab values, and hoped to get a better sense of what the different things might actually mean. It started out to be very promising (The video on “what’s inside of blood” was actually quite useful), but unfortunately, the module was mostly about the chemistry behind blood tests. I got a great review of my senior high chemistry classes (yes, I did actually remember Avogadro’s number by heart and I also remembered what it meant). The description promised to tell me “about your lab values and what they mean”. I think they took that a bit too literally – they tell you what they mean from a chemistry perspective, but not from a person perspective. The module does nothing to tell you how to interpret the results of lab tests – like what does it mean to have a low hematocrit and when is “low” something that requires action to be taken. Perhaps I’m asking too much from a Khan Academy talk?

Second, I reviewed “Health Care System” hoping to gain some insights into the American healthcare system. As a Canadian being treated in the American system I am not always aware of how things work. I have started to realize some cultural difference (like asking for second opinions) and my empathy towards my physicians, that cause me to not be as up front when asking questions (it is the Canadian need to be polite). I was hoping to gain some insight that might have helped me with this.  Unfortunately, the tutorials very much focused on the cost aspect of healthcare – which I guess is the biggest difference. Outside of the US, a discussion about the “healthcare system” would be about the different players in providing healthcare. In the US, the discussion is all about the money (the economics of health care) – who pays for what. I think this also plays an import role about attitudes within the healthcare system. In this system, patient engagement can feel a little like consumer engagement.

I think this module would be better titled “the economics of the US Health Care system”. It is interesting listening to Sal Khan interview people, as you see his business and economics background coming out in this discussion. If you have an interest in understanding some of the business aspects of the US Healthcare system, this is good module. If you want a better understanding of how the Health Care system provides actual health care, this doesn’t do it.

I would love to see a tutorial that overviews the different roles and positions within the healthcare system, especially within an educational setting. Something that describes the difference between a med student, resident, fellow, attending, etc as well as nurse, nurse practitioner, physician assistant, medical assistant, etc. As patients, we interact within this system, but don’t have a clear understanding of who we are interacting with.

As someone who is looking into patient education resources for those with breast cancer, I cannot at this time recommend the Khan Academy as a place for anything that useful. If this has changed (they are adding new modules regularly) or you think there is something useful, please leave me a comment and I’ll review it.


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