In the Classroom: Students Consult on Promoting Telehealth

Posted on: April 20, 2017 Topics: in the classroom

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MPH student Kalpita Patel, right, and classmates teleconference with Andrew Solomon (’12).

On a recent afternoon, a team of communications consultants held a quick video conference with their client, Maine-based Northeast Telehealth Resource Center (NETRC). The consultants are students in the course Communication Strategies for Public Health: MPH students Deana Barakat, Maria Cerda, Kalpita Patel, Meaghan Wostbrock, and dental public health doctoral student Alaa Qari. Their contact at NETRC? Alumnus Andrew Solomon (’12).

Solomon has been so happy with the team’s work that he has invited them to lead a national webinar on April 27, sharing how to encourage the use of technologies like video conferencing in health care.

In the classroom, students self-select into teams working with different clients on real issues, and provide real deliverables, says Jacey Greece, clinical assistant professor of community health sciences, who teaches Communication Strategies. “The structure of this class has huge benefits to students, collaborating agencies, faculty, and the School,” Greece says. “It strengthens networks and allows for an enhanced level of learning and application not typically achieved in traditional courses.”

For NETRC, a federally funded program within MCD Public Health, the team of student consultants are working on ways to encourage primary care providers to use video conferencing to reach rural patients in Massachusetts.

The subject of this afternoon’s meeting—appropriately via Zoom, which unlike Skype or FaceTime can be HIPAA-compliant—is the webinar the consultants will run on April 27. To the audience of professionals working in healthcare administration, the team will present their needs assessment and literature review, the training intervention they developed to facilitate provider use of telehealth, and ideas for communication strategies to engage providers.

The webinar is part of the Consortium of Telehealth Resource Centers’ National Telehealth Webinar Series, Solomon says: “Stakeholders across the country, in both rural and urban areas, are looking to effectively integrate telehealth, and we hope the research and insights from the students can help get them one step closer.”

Wostbrock says it is an incredible opportunity. “It definitely brings pride to our project and shows that we made something that is applicable in the real world,” she says. “We did something that transcends the classroom, and that’s been really valuable to us as a group.”

Greece says the invitation to run a webinar is a sign of a satisfied client. “There is no greater compliment to the students, and to the teaching team, than for a collaborating agency to want to further engage with the student group,” she says. “In my five years of teaching the course this way, there have been continued opportunities after the semester, but this webinar opportunity is the first time within the semester the students have been asked to participate in such a visible and impactful activity.”

Solomon says he knew from the start these student consultants would do good work. “Given my experiences at SPH, I had no question that the student consultants could produce an incredibly valuable product,” he says.

Wostbrock says Solomon being an alumnus has also made him a particularly helpful client “He understands where we’re coming from,” she says. “He gave us this opportunity because I think he knows what that means to an MPH student.”

Solomon acknowledges how important opportunities like this can be for students. “The hands-on, deliverable-based experiences promoted at SPH are incredibly valuable,” he says. “I strongly believe the experiences provided during my practicum and other internships facilitated by SPH better prepared me to join the workforce after graduation.”

The students agree the course structure has been incredibly valuable. “This is one of the reasons I chose to take this class,” Qari says. “It’s practice-based and learning by actually doing a real project that has a direct impact on people.” The range of clients was also a major draw for the dental public health doctoral student: “I was happy that there was a telehealth group, because I’m so passionate about this and excited about teledentistry.” The experience may even contribute to her dissertation, she adds.

That doesn’t mean the class is easy, Cerda says. “It has been a huge challenge, and I think the whole class has been about taking us outside of our comfort zones” and out into the real world, she says.

“It’s the hardest class I’ve ever taken, and the best class I’ve ever taken,” Patel says. “It’s also just a great thing to have on your resume, that we did real-world consulting, we worked with a client, they gave us a problem and we created an intervention.”

Greece says she is excited by the wide reach of the national webinar. “The collaboration started within the walls of SPH, yet will extend far beyond those walls. That is practice-based teaching at its finest: allowing students the opportunity to immediately give back to the communities and agencies we are training them to serve.”

Michelle Samuels

The students’ webinar, >Engaging Providers with Telehealth Technology: Training Modules and Communication Strategies, will be on Thursday, April 27.

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