COVID-19 and the Importance of Virtual Learning: The Future of Medical Education

When the novel coronavirus began sweeping around the world earlier this year, it left doctors, hospitals and public health experts scrambling for answers. How should diagnoses of COVID-19 cases be made? What are the symptoms that need the most careful monitoring? What are the right treatment options for each stage of the disease? And what happens if patients have other conditions, such as being pregnant? The answers were—and continue to be—evolving so rapidly that it has been hard for overworked physicians, nurses and other healthcare providers to keep up.

But there is one place they can turn quickly for the latest information—a free online training module from a medical education company called CaseNetwork. First released on March 17, this program also illustrates the growing potential of virtual, case-based medical education even long after the pandemic has subsided.

Providing Up-to-Date Guidance on a Rapidly Changing Virus

As COVID-19 patients began to overwhelm hospitals from Bergamo, Italy to New York City, CaseNetwork’s team of medical writers, physicians and infectious disease experts began to work around-the-clock to capture the most up-to-date guidance in an educational module for all healthcare providers.

“We felt it was our duty to ensure that physicians on the frontlines are equipped with the latest knowledge to successfully treat their patients during the pandemic,” says CaseNetwork’s founder and CEO Jeffrey Levy, MD, who had previously worked with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to create similar cases for prior epidemics and pandemics, including anthrax, SARS and MERS.

The online 12-lesson course covers each step in the treatment of  a simulated patient, a 68-year-old woman with worsening respiratory illness. It walks providers through all the possible diagnoses for the patient, the important diagnostic tests, the available drugs and other treatments and how best to use them, and how and when a recovered patient can be safely sent home. It even includes lessons on essential infectious disease precautions for hospitals to take and guidelines for treating patients in their own homes through telemedicine. And as researchers and physicians continue to find better ways to fight this new disease more effectively, the CaseNetwork team updates the tutorial twice a week to follow the most current recommendations from authorities like the CDC and World Health Organization (WHO).

“Our goal is to help healthcare providers synthesize the rapidly evolving information that is bombarding them from multiple sources and put it to practical use to improve patient outcomes,” explains Dr. Levy.

In less than two months, the online course had been viewed by more than 25,000 healthcare providers. In addition, shortly after the module went live, members of the Society of Maternal-Fetal Medicine requested a similar tutorial on COVID-19 in pregnancy. So Dr. Levy and his team developed and released a new case—a simulated patient experience of a 29-year-old, full-term pregnant woman.

Pushing the Technological Envelope

For Dr. Levy, the two COVID tutorials are vivid examples of the power of—and the growing need for—technology-enhanced medical education, a field he’s been leading for more than three decades. Back in the 1980s, he was a private practice OB/GYN who was passionate about training medical students and residents. But he was frustrated that most of his teaching was limited to one-on-one interactions in small group settings. Could there be a way to reach hundreds or thousands of people instead?

He started by recording his teaching sessions on laser discs, even though the technology to utilize audio, video and text simultaneously was in its infancy at that time. As technology evolved, he moved to CD-ROMS and DVDs, gradually adding features like sophisticated 3D medical and surgical animations.

In the past 30 years, Dr. Levy has developed over 600 interactive case presentations that have educated over 400,000 physicians. He’s also helped create the first iPhone simulated patient encounter, as well as one of the world’s first virtual reality surgical simulators. “I’ve been really trying to push the envelope from day one, because simulation has proven to help learners better apply new knowledge and skills to their clinical practice,” he says.

In 1995, he also started moving away from the traditional passive lecture format of medical education and experimented with a case-based approach to education while teaching medical students at Jefferson Medical College. The basic idea is to use simulated patient encounters that require the course participants to make active decisions at key stages in the patient care process, while providing them with immediate feedback.

“I’ve been working to improve technology in medical education for more than 30 years, but this next decade is shaping up to include some of the biggest, most exciting advances in digital medical education yet.”

Jeffrey Levy, MD

This helps improve clinical reasoning and problem-solving skills, says Dr. Levy, who founded CaseNetwork in 2011 to bring this virtual, case-based educational approach to medical schools and residency programs. The simulations are also carefully designed to put each case in the larger context of managing care.

“Having a really strong understanding of the big picture of patient care and what they’re trying to accomplish is important,” says Dr. Levy. “Then we combine it with specific guidelines and best practices so that they can get there quickly, efficiently, and consistently—that’s what our program is designed to do.”

Now, the pandemic has forced most of education to go virtual. But even after the disease is tamed and restrictions are lifted, the advances in online learning could help make technology-enhanced education part of the “new normal” in medical education.

Dr. Levy also foresees further technological advances that will make virtual medical education even more active and effective. Augmented reality can turn online education into an actual “hands-on” experience, for example, while artificial intelligence can react to individuals’ level of knowledge and thinking patterns to truly personalize the training.  

“I’ve been working to improve technology in medical education for more than 30 years, but this next decade is shaping up to include some of the biggest, most exciting advances in digital medical education yet,” he says.

To learn more and view an interactive case, visit or contact Kami Jacobsen, VP Sales and Marketing, at 1-800-654-1745 x106.

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