Telehealth is a vital resource in today’s health care delivery. In particular, when serving a large population base spread over a vast geographical area. It can help overcome significant roadblocks, such as severe weather and lengthy travel time, in providing timely access and appropriate levels of care.
More so, the technology is proving to be a competent training platform for health professional students learning to assess and care for patients.
Remote Human Interactions for Tele-Health Mentorship (Rhithm) is a pilot project led by Southern Medical Program preceptors at Kelowna General Hospital. The project seeks to evaluate the usefulness of telehealth technology as a training platform for third year medical students. More specifically, teaching how to conduct psychiatric interviews on standardized patients, also known as patient actors, via telehealth.
The psychiatric interview is one of the most challenging patient histories to take from both the teaching and learning perspectives. The interviewer must be able to establish an effective rapport with the patient to elicit the necessary information while paying special attention to their emotional responses.
“By removing the patient from the room and relying on the help of technology to communicate and observe responses, we are essentially intensifying the whole interview process,” says Dr. Neil Hanon, psychiatrist, rotation leader at KGH, and co-principal investigator.
The standardized patient is given a predetermined story and illness to personify during the telehealth session. Arriving ‘in character,’ the student proceeds to interview the patient paying close attention to their responses and non-verbal cues. The interview concludes with the standardized patient coming ‘out of character’ for a shared discussion with the student and preceptor.
The benefit of using standardized patients provides a safe environment for students to ask questions and a thorough review of how their questions were perceived. Students are then able to refine their interviewing skills and apply to future encounters with real patients.
The six week third-year psychiatry rotation teaches medical students the fundamentals of psychiatry as they learn alongside physicians in both in-patient and clinical settings. Students must obtain a firm grasp on how to diagnose and effectively manage patients with common psychiatric illnesses which can branch into all areas of medicine. The telehealth sessions serve as a complement to the student’s learning at the hospital and in the clinics.
“If we can teach students how to use telehealth as a modality to interact with patients, it will be incredibly useful for them in their future practice,” adds Dr. Hanon.
Rhithm represents a collaboration with Southern Medical Program and eHealth Strategy Office. Dr. Kendal Ho, Director of the eHealth Strategy Office serves as the other co-principal investigator for the project with funding provided by The Colin & Lois Pritchard Foundation.