Sabermetrics Meets Medical Education

Day 2 of the health and medtech portion at SXSW Interactive conference is in the books.

One of the great things about SXSWi is the constant flow of novel ideas that seem to develop here.

A great panel discussion on the evolution of medical education with Dr. Mami Baker Stein, Dr. Sue Cox and Dr. Susan Skochelak got me thinking.

With the rapid changes in healthcare over the past 5 years, medical education has to evolve in step. Future medical graduates will face new challenges, both practical and ethical, with an increasingly digital healthcare system which includes telemedicine, patient portals, wearables, quantified metrics favoring a value-based delivery system, and the growing influence of social media.

Fortunately, this generation of medical students has grown up in a digital, quantified lifestyle.

Another emerging concept in medical education focuses on a “personalized” track where if strengths or weaknesses of a student are identified early, their curriculum can be tailored to suit them.

What about using novel data-driven technology to evaluate and train better doctors?

By all counts, good “bedside manner” is a mark of a great doctor. Is this something that people naturally have or can it be taught? If you can teach it, can it be quantified and evaluated for progress?

Turns out, there are recently developed software programs and applications that can detect emotions on people’s faces and quantify them. What if we adopted this technology to quantify the feelings and emotions a patient exhibited while a student interacts with them.

Can the tone in a students’ voice be measured as soothing and empathetic or cold and distant? Perhaps. Could this biometric data when provided as constructive criticism be helpful to a future doctor? Possibly.

For a budding surgeon, being told you have “good hands” by an attending is a wonderful compliment and if relayed to a program director could very well seal a residency spot. But what does “good hands” even mean? It sounds very subjective. What if we could quantify it?

Imagine a glove containing sensors that could detect subtle tremors and perspiration, or how smooth and gentle hands move while doing a minor surgical maneuver such as suturing a wound. Could a wearable device then quantify “good hands?”

Test it

Let’s entertain the idea that these metrics are valid. You could track these metrics in a longitudinal study over four years. Measure these “bedside manner” and “good hands” data points at the beginning of medical school, before and after clinical clerkships, just prior to residency applications, and finally at graduation. Give students the software and wearable devices to practice throughout their tenure.

Consider making it a randomized trial by introducing the intervention to half the students and compare groups after four years to see if it makes a difference. Look for trends and learning curves.

Will these Sabermetrics help?

Sabermetrics have redefined how we evaluate athletes and politicians. Data collected from the NFL combine affects whether or not a football player gets selected in the first or fourth round. Sabermetrics can also help predict which political candidate might win the Iowa primary.

Evaluating medical students beyond their grades and USMLE scores might help program directors fill their highly-coveted residency spots with the best doctors using real data for things that count – empathy and skill.

It might also help educators teach them.

#SXSW #sxswi #medicaleducation #medicalschool #wearables #digitalhealth #residency #digihealth #medstudent #dellmedschool

Robert Wong, MD
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