A Pilot Program to Engage Medical Students in Communication with Primary Care Patients through the Patient Portal
As the use of secure messaging between patients and physicians rises, managing electronic communication with patients is an increasingly important part of a physician's duties. Trainees in medical education must develop skills to effectively communicate with patients online, yet there are few studies about how to best prepare medical students for this aspect of future practice. With the need for more remote learning during the COVID-19 pandemic, engaging medical students directly with the management of electronic communication with patients presented an opportunity for virtual learning and training in this important form of communication. We herein describe a pilot program, performed at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, that consisted of 4 student-faculty pairs in which students were assigned to reply to patient messages under faculty supervision in a primary care setting. Both students and faculty found educational value in the pilot. Students felt they strengthened their written communication skills, and that they developed skills in triaging patient concerns and coordinating specialist care and social needs. Faculty felt the program allowed them to stay more connected to students during the COVID-19 pandemic and allowed more flexibility for virtual teaching. This novel pilot program demonstrates that engaging medical students in direct electronic communication with patients is a promising method for helping students build written communication and patient care skills. With the increasing need for virtual learning opportunities in the post-COVID era, this model provides a basis for broader implementation of the program, as well as expansion to other clerkships and other institutions. Integrating patient messaging into medical school curricula is an important step in modernizing medical education and preparing trainees to be effective and competent 21st century physicians.
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