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KM Reality Award winner Boston Children’s Hospital

This article appears in the issue January 2015, [Vol 24, Issue 1]

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KM Reality Award winner:

Boston Children’s Hospital

After Dr. Jeffrey Burns, MD, of Boston Children’s Hospital helped save a child’s life in Mexico with a cobbled-together combination of phone and Internet camera, he decided to do something about the problem that where you live can determine whether your child will survive a critical illness. Boston is blessed with abundant medical schools and fine hospitals, all of which are willing to collaborate on difficult problems. Not so the rest of the world, and Burns realized that there had to be a better way to spread what he had learned to other physicians.

OPENPediatrics is a learning platform that went viral in its beta stage. Today it has more than 1,000 users in 78 countries and 420 hospitals. Although its content is still limited, it has already saved lives worldwide. To be effective, a medical distance learning system must support four phases of adult learning: explain, watch a demonstration, try it yourself and discuss.

That’s a straightforward process in a traditional classroom, but it raises all kinds of technical problems online: Who will do the teaching? How good will the information be? Is a video an adequate substitute for a live demonstration that allows listeners to ask questions? How can users try a skill they are learning in an online environment using some sort of simulator before they practice on real people? Can they get reliable, timely answers to their questions in an open discussion forum?

OPENPediatrics signals an important change not only in medicine, but also in software development. Contextually based software applications and platforms have begun to arrive on the market. They are designed to support a process or task—in this case distance learning—and to hide a complex array of supporting technologies under an easy-to-use interface. What’s different is that the desired outcome, not the underlying technology, frames the application development. More and more, the person who sees the need and recognizes that there might be a solution is not a developer or an IT manager but a technology observer and user.

Burns wanted to solve the problem of knowledge dissemination and learning at a distance, in order to spread his knowledge and stretch access to his expertise beyond the limits of his location or the 24 hours in his day. He saw technologies that could be synthesized into a single solution. Innovators are usually people who can put together seemingly unrelated bits of knowledge into a new idea. They often come from outside a domain, and therefore they tend to use an atypical lens to focus on a problem. Furthermore, they see possibilities, not problems, because they are not steeped in the difficulties of making something work.

OPENPediatrics offers a supportive self-education environment for professionals that is interactive and globally Socratic. It is not linear, and its uses range from answering questions, sometimes in real-time health emergencies, to learning needed skills, updating knowledge, browsing to explore new topics or discussing issues with peers. The knowledgebase is expanding, but its content is limited to high-value information that is vetted for accuracy. Topic modules may contain lectures, but they also include demonstrations and interactive simulations for practice.

Practitioners can create training videos and distribute them so that they can be used either in simultaneous sessions or on an as-needed basis. A library of expertise has been created, built on an interactive platform that can be generalized.

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