As the Covid-19 pandemic grew in the United States, hospital systems scrambled to accept the massive influx of patients and create some semblance of protocols to treat these infectious patients. Due to the huge demand for intensive care of very sick patients, many clinicians have been reassigned to areas outside of their expertise. Many of my otolaryngology residents, with their expertise in airway management, have been asked to cover the intensive care units of the hospital. Other colleagues in pulmonology, cardiology and gastroenterology have also been reassigned to intensive care given their training in internal medicine. New York State started graduating medical students early, an otherwise unprecedented scenario, just to get more medical professionals on the front lines. Institutions also quickly created makeshift boot camps for reassigned and reassigned clinicians to give them a crash course in how to provide ICU-level care under the guidance of real intensivists.

It was a scary time that upended everyone’s self-efficacy and confidence in their ability to care for patients, a feeling many haven’t felt since beginning their medical training. The medical world was thirsty for information and scrambling to figure out how to quickly improve the skills of practicing clinicians and cover the massive learning losses of trainees who were losing vital experiential learning while closing in-person training and simulation centers .

Before the pandemic, many medical students and residents turned to simulation centers to supplement their training, especially when rotations and other in-person training opportunities were limited. Healthcare professionals, especially those early in their careers, use these centers to practice difficult cases and build confidence in their cognitive and psychomotor abilities without ever touching a patient. With more than 600 accredited simulation centers in the United States, these facilities are an integral part of medical education. However, when many of these centers, as well as residency and other in-person opportunities, limited their operations during the Covid-19 pandemic, students and faculty were left without effective and accessible methods of experiential training.

The backup plan for further medical education does not have to consist of lectures on teleconferencing platforms, 2D animations and presentation videos. There’s a better way, and it’s already available on smartphones, laptops, and other portable devices. Interactive software-based training is one of the most convenient, effective and engaging options for a digitally savvy generation. Instead of watching a video describing an intubation procedure, for example, a doctor can simulate it on their phone, learning about the tools and operations in a more interactive way. Elsewhere, a budding pulmonologist can spend his daily commute playing a mobile game that mimics a challenging bronchoscopy, preparing him for unexpected cases.

Not only is this method more convenient, but it is very effective.

This hybrid model, combining occasional synchronous training with digital methods, can train high-level thinking skills such as judgment, situational analysis, medical decision-making and motor planning, in concert with skill development psychomotor.

With mobile simulators based on software like video games, physicians can become proficient in the cognitive aspect of their careers even before entering a physical facility. Granted, mobile options may not train some of the mechanical and haptic skills that in-person training allows, but healthcare professionals can still engage in all aspects of a procedure other than purely mechanical. Unlike watching lectures or videos, this kind of interactive cognitive training encourages players to solve problems and explore new solutions, ultimately stimulating deeper learning.

Beyond basic cognitive skills, mobile games can also teach soft skills like leadership, effective communication, and even empathy. In the field of health in particular, Dr. Pablo Buitron de la Vega, general internist and associate professor of medicine at Boston University School of Medicine, has developed a virtual poverty simulation game which, when deployed, has the potential to impart knowledge on the social determinants of health. (SDOH). While other such simulations exist, the realism and interactivity of Dr. Buitron de la Vega’s platform leverages experiential learning, ensuring students retain information with greater depth. .

This asynchronous training does not have to be an individual task either. The gaming industry has used cloud-based collaboration for years, allowing gamers to connect regardless of their physical location. Leveraging this technology for medical training can reinvent peer-to-peer training for the modern physician. There’s even a future in more user-generated content as doctors-turned-players create their challenges.

Even if medical rotations resume normal attendance and simulation centers keep their doors open, this appetite for self-guided training will not dissipate. The Covid-19 pandemic has only accelerated this transformation towards asynchronous remote learning. To keep pace with industry innovation, these learners also need faculty members who know how to engage students in digital education.

For example, we have started using these brand new technologies in our hospital to provide tele-simulations and virtual lectures to fill the void. These modalities replaced lectures and recorded videos and instead provided real-time education thousands of miles away. Game-based learning brought new solutions to the arsenal of educators, ensuring that participants from multiple locations and even continents could engage in the same interactive experiences.

Mobile training is more than a cool new way to train and engage in peer-to-peer collaboration. This expansion of asynchronous training is not just a prediction – it is an evolution currently underway in healthcare beyond medical students, residents and their faculty. Practicing doctors, nurses, paramedics and other healthcare professionals are also looking for more interactivity and flexibility in their medical training, which will drive change that will survive the pandemic.

It’s time for the healthcare industry to invest more in these software solutions, giving healthcare professionals the resources they need to thrive in an increasingly digitized field. Otherwise, these professionals will lag behind medical advances, catching up with their forward-looking peers.

Photo: Asawin_Klabma, Getty Images