Dr Aniruddha Malpani highlights the contributions patients have made to a number of e-learning programmes, especially as regards improving the doctor-patient relationship.

[Doctors 2.0] ‟E-learning can help patients in other ways than preventative care”

A pioneer in introducing e-learning into the healthcare sector who is scheduled to speak at the Doctors 2.0 event in Paris in June, Indian physician Aniruddha Malpani gives us an overview of the doctor-patient relationship in the era of telemedicine. He is inter alia the founder of HELP (Health Education Library for People), the largest free library for educating patients. On his site he also makes widespread use of videos and cartoon strips to raise awareness of health issues among Internet users.

L’Atelier: You’ve developed a number of e-learning programmes for the health sector. How do they help the patient?

Dr Malpani: Traditionally most people see e-learning as a way for doctors to communicate with each other so as to stay up to date on the latest discoveries and progress in medical science. However, there are far more patients than doctors. In emerging countries there’s even a shortage of doctors. Nevertheless, people are now eager for information on health topics and using the Internet is a useful way to provide it. It costs less and the right information reaches the right person very quickly. And we shouldn’t forget that a large number of people are still illiterate. This being the case, videos provide a very simple solution.

But e-learning can help patients in other ways than preventative care. A person who’s receiving treatment can for instance check his/her medicines and prescribed dose. When the information patients obtain exactly matches the information their doctor has given them, this increases their trust in healthcare professionals. And patients can interact with their doctor in a much more intelligent way when they’ve obtained information beforehand.

 Malpani’s site uses comic strips as a way of putting information across

In addition to the videos mentioned above, a number of programmes – such as your Health Library – actually credit patients as content creators, How do contributions from patients fit in with the information from healthcare practitioners?

Content created by patients for patients generates more trust. However, patients are often very reluctant to produce content, as they don’t feel they are expert enough. This is why we need healthcare practitioners to open the discussions and set trains of thought in motion. Then website users find it easier to contribute and they have more impact.

There’s still a gulf between doctors and patients. Patients tend to think that their questions are stupid and often don’t dare to put them to doctors. Moreover, they see health practitioners as very cold, unemotional people. Of course a patient won’t be able to give a full picture of him/herself the one time s/he goes to the hospital, nor can doctors answer all health-related questions. As an infertility expert, I have a great deal of medical knowledge but a large percentage of problems linked to infertility are emotional difficulties. How can we deal with this sort of problem? It’s not easy for doctors to do so. On the other hand from the patients’ point of view it makes their situation seem a lot easier.

Dr Malpani’s Health Library combines information from experts with contributions from patients

How is patient-generated content curated?

On the one hand patients don’t feel they’re experts, and on the other hand they’re wary of learning from other patients. As a result, before they submit a contribution, site users tend to educate themselves on the subject. They want to get to grips with the basics of the topic they’re contributing on, in order to be sure of what they are saying and express themselves clearly. However doctors don’t take the same attitude; they tend to use jargon. So in the end patients are able to make the information easier to understandWhat challenges have you faced when developing e-learning programmes for healthcare?

What challenges have you faced when developing e-learning programmes for healthcare?

E-learning is actually a complex field. There are a great many issues around how you deliver the message, how to obtain and employ user feedback, etc. Doctors are not generally familiar with this sort of issue so we had to learn. But as we feel confident about using the online channel, it’s easy to modify, recreate, and change our approach in response to our mistakes. In actual fact doctors learn two things with this type of programme. On the one hand they become more familiar with teaching – which isn’t generally part of their training, and on the other hand – over and above their medical knowledge – they learn to be more empathetic with their patients – i.e. to see things through their patients’ eyes.

By Guillaume Scifo