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December 2013

Making Medical Education More Accessible

By Barbara Palmer, Senior Editor

For many organizations and individuals, an online option for education can save money and time. In the world of medical education, it also can save lives.

The nonprofit Society for Worldwide Medical Exchange (SWME) was founded in 2009 to advance global health by making quality medical education more accessible to doctors and other medical professionals around the world, including those in remote and disadvantaged areas, according to Shavala Magri, SWME's executive director.

The organization, which is based near Miami, uses technology to help lower the barriers created by time, distance, and cost by partnering with medical associations, hospitals, and universities to create interactive online courses featuring content presented at live events. The courses are available for an average of $100 to $150, with discounts for medical residents and others — a fraction of the cost of attending a program in person, Magri said. A recent example was the Oct. 12 conference Bridging Neurology and Psychiatry: Movement Disorders, which was held in Boston and was a collaboration between SWME, Butler Hospital, Alpert Medical School at Brown University, and the Movement Disorder Society.

In creating online education, SWME goes beyond just recording a session, Magri said. Faculty at the Movement Disorders conference, for example, filmed abbreviated versions of their presentations, which will be combined with additional resources, including research and live webinar sessions. “We've really been studying online education,” Magri said, “and what are the tools that have the most impact on learners.”

In October, SWME announced a new partnership with EviMed, the leading provider of continuing medical education in Latin America. EviMed's president and CEO, Dr. Alvaro Margolis, is a renowned thought leader in online education, Magri said, and the partnership will “greatly expand” SWME's ability to provide programs that blend live and online education.

EviMed uses interactive web-based teaching, networking platforms, and interactive multimedia resources, including clinical simulations, allowing doctors to follow hands-on medical cases and make decisions that affect a virtual patient. Its platform was used by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in an online course as part of an effort to control dengue fever across Latin America. EviMed also created a program that blended in-person and online learning that was used as a regional course in Latin America by the World Gastroenterology Association.

Not that SWME is advocating that online education should replace in-person education and networking at medical meetings, Magri said. Indeed, the organization awards scholarships for doctors to attend conferences, and provides funding for live events, such as the Movement Disorder Society's “Neurology Training for Non-Neurologists,” which was held in Accra, Ghana, in September.

But as more and more people have access to the Internet, Magri said, online programs can provide access to quality education to those who can't attend in person.

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