Why should I be in the same room with these people?
That’s one of the many smart questions participants posed at a Stanford Medical School meeting I attended last weekend. If I had been daydreaming (I’d never do that), I might have thought the question was for me. You see, the participants were a handpicked set of national medical education experts, folks nominally from the status quo medical-education-industrial complex—the very thing we’re trying to change.
You might think that they embodied that dreaded status quo. I’m happy to report they did not—not even close. I’m also relieved to tell you that the question (in spite of my paranoia) wasn’t for me. Instead, it was one of many challenges these thoughtful, passionate teachers tossed at each other.
“Why are we in the room?” was a challenge to each other. Why and when should teachers be in the same room with the learners?
When you think about it, that’s actually a central question if you’re attempting to use online education to flip the medical education experience. It’s also a brave one if you’re a teacher: justify the time you spend with your students.
Over the last month, journal headlines have been heralding the death of massive online open courses (MOOCs). You could almost hear the sigh of relief from the academy. With Sebastian Thrun himself acknowledging the “lousy” quality of the MOOC product, told-you-so skeptics have been giddily pointing out that Udacity, in its failure to disrupt higher education, is now moving on to vocational training.
Sadly, what audiences are missing is that Thrun’s shift to workforce training is precisely what has the potential to disrupt and severely impact traditional postsecondary education. We at the Christensen Institute have already written extensively about how MOOCs were not displaying the right markers for disruption (see here, here, here, and here), but we became more hopeful as they started to offer clusters of courses. Coursera announced Foundations of Business with Wharton, while edX and MITX introduced the Xseries in Computer Science as well as Supply Chain & Logistics.
These moves appeared to map better to employer needs and what we describe as areas of nonconsumption. In their turn away from career-oriented training, colleges and universities have unwittingly left unattended a niche of nonconsumers—people over-served by traditional forms of higher education, underprepared for the workforce, and seeking lifelong learning pathways.
What most people forget when they bandy about the term “disruptive innovation” is that disruptive innovations must find their footholds in nonconsumption. McKinsey analysts estimate that the number of skillsets needed in the workforce has increased rapidly from 178 in September 2009 to 924 in June 2012. Unfortunately, most traditional institutions have not adapted to this surge in demand of skillsets, and as a result, the gap has widened between degree-holders and the jobs available today.
The educational world is becoming flat.
A quiet revolution is underway in the way teachers and students interact using recorded lectures, YouTube, and the internet. In 2004, financial analyst turned online educator Sal Khan began tutoring his niece in math using an online drawing program. As he uploaded these lectures to YouTube, their popularity grew into a social phenomenon.
Today, Khan Academy has provided over 240 million online lessons around the world in over 4000 topics. Stanford, MIT, and other universities now offer massive open online courses (MOOCs) by top professors to all comers. In fact, Harvard Business School no longer offers an introductory accounting class due to the availability of an exceptional online course from Brigham Young University. With high-quality content readily available online, the student-teacher dynamic is changing. Students are expecting excellent instruction and teachers are expecting students to be increasingly knowledgeable about subjects from online viewing. These reciprocal heightened expectations have the potential to create a more dynamic and interactive classroom experience.
These innovations can also transform patient education by bringing patients into the circle of learning. Patients already leverage YouTube and other online sources for health purposes. For example, PatientsLikeMe was started in 2004 by the family and friends of Stephen Heywood who had been diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. This online community helps connect patients with other similarly affected patients and aims to educate patients about the illness experience and potential treatment options. This encourages patients to think synergistically about complex problems such as outcomes, decision-making and ethics. Today, PatientsLikeMe covers more than 1200 health conditions with over 100,000 members.
Given these broad ranging developments, we need to rethink the patient–doctor encounter. The typical encounter follows the traditional pedagogic paradigm of “banking” – in which the teacher, who has the power and the knowledge, seeks to deposit knowledge assets into the learner’s bank (1). Unfortunately, though this approach induces passivity and disempowerment it is the dominant mode of patient education. Instead, imagine encounters where patients are prepared to engage in shared decision-making, allowing the office visit to center on activities that promote patient-centeredness and engagement such as confirming patient comprehension, ascertaining values, and establishing goals.
If you’re going to get ambitious about your next task, don’t go and talk to normal people about it. You’ll only get normal answers. Get out of your comfortable little world and step into a completely alien one. As we say round here, when worlds collide, transformation happens.
Love that passage from Brian Millar’s 2012 Fast Company piece. (Plus, it gives me the awesome chance to nod to the eccentrics and outliers—like Millar’s dominatrix and tattooed hipster set—and their unlikely importance to pioneering, breakthrough ideas).
Recently RWJF extended another grant to the Khan Academy; this one for $1.25 million. I say another as we started this health education journey with Sal, Rishi and the Khan team—right after Sal’s outstanding 2011 TED/Long Beach talk. That discussion resulted in a preliminary 2012 $350,000 bet on this great team. We were intrigued by their big idea—and we thought the world might be too.
What’s that big idea again? Just this: an entirely free, utterly fantastic health education for anyone in the world with a computer and an Internet connection.
Potentially crazy? Perhaps. Ambitious? No kidding. But for RWJF’s pioneering work, that’s right where we like to be. We thought there just might be something there. One year later, we are even more convinced. In that time, the Khan team has pushed intensely and hard—creating its new Healthcare and Medicine Initiative basically from scratch.
For instance, with our support, Khan staff have developed about 200 videos now posted on that Healthcare and Medicine Initiative site—as well as their YouTube medical channel. These videos have received about 800,000 views, and the site has over 10,000 new subscribers. Khan continues to work with Stanford Medical School. That collaboration includes developing and posting Stanford Medical School content on the Khan site as well as integrating the online format into traditional medical school courses.Continue reading…
Consider the doctor’s office: the sanctum of care in American medicine, where a patient enters with a need — a question or an ailment or a concern — and leaves with an answer, a diagnosis or a treatment. That room, with its emblematic atmosphere of exam table and tiny sink and bottles of antiseptic, is in many ways the engine of our health care system, the locus of all our collective knowledge and all our collective resources. It’s where health care happens.
But in a less sentimental light, the doctor’s office doesn’t seem so exalted. Yes, it remains the essential hub for clinical care. But what occurs in that room isn’t exactly ideal, nor state-of-the-art. The doctor-patient encounter is fraught with tension, asymmetrical information, and flat-out incomprehension. It is a high-cost, high-resource encounter with surprisingly limited value and limited returns. It is too cursory to be exhaustive (the infamous fifteen-minute median office visit), too infrequent to create an honest relationship (one or two times a year visits at best), and too anonymous to be personal (the average primary care doc has more than 2,300 patients).
At best, it offers a rare personal connection between doctor and patient. At worst, it is theater. The doctor pretends she remembers the patient, and that she has actually had the time to read the patient’s chart in full; the patient pretends that he hasn’t spent hours on the Internet trying to diagnosis himsef, half-admitting what he’s really doing day to day, and pretending he won’t second- guess the doctor’s orders the moment he gets back to a computer.
As woeful as that sounds, we know that there’s real value here. This encounter can be meaningful; it should and must be meaningful. The doctor is a necessary interface to medicine, and his office is a source of care, expertise, and trust. The patient is eager and receptive to learning, primed for guidance and direction. Pragmatically, the doctor’s visit is a powerful part of modern medicine. The problem is that we, collectively, are not optimizing this resource; we have not reconsidered and re-evaluated how we might exploit the visit to its full advantage.
So how can we improve this situation? How can we fix this thing?
From SFO, I carefully followed my Droid Navigator’s directions off Highway 101 into a warren of non-descript low-slung office buildings—non-descript except for the telltale proliferation of Google signs and young adults riding colorful Google bikes. I drove around to the back of several of those complexes and finally found the correct numbered grouping. It really could have been any office or doctors’ office complex in the U.S. The Khan suite is on the second floor. There’s a simple brass plate saying “Khan Academy” on what looked like oak double doors. I let myself in and immediately encountered a large, central open space—with long dining tables, food, an ample sitting area with couches conducive for group discussions—and a friendly greeting by programmers and staff. Oh, and computers—there were lots of computers. As far as I could tell, nobody had their own office—though maybe Sal does. Everyone was also open, friendly and passionate about the great work happening there.
After some trial and error, Rishi and I found an unused office and huddled around his Mac for a Google Hangout interview with a Bay Area reporter about the Khan/RWJF health care education project. Later, I met with Shantanu, the Khan COO and former “math jock” high school friend of Sal, as well as Charlotte, external relations, and Matt, software engineer. They’re all long termers at Khan—that means they’ve been there for about two years. Overall, the energy was pretty electric. One other small thing—do not be fooled—these incredible people are, how should I put it—ferociously—intense and focused.
Pioneers in flipping the med school classroom
The next morning, Rishi and I met at Stanford Medical School—in the Li Ka Shing Center for Learning and Knowledge—an enormous and beautiful building off Campus Drive near the hospital that did not exist back in my days as an earnest Stanford law student. We were there to observe some pioneers in medical education attempt to use Khan-like videos to flip the medical school classroom. This work at Stanford is part of the current Khan Academy and RWJF collaboration. We’re trying to understand what happens when a medical school attempts to use the Khan-style videos to change the classroom interaction.