Nobody ever said medical school was a thrill ride. There’s the stuffy classroom, the incessant drone of a professor lecturing about the body’s capillary resistances, and medical students catching catnaps.
That’s why some argue that it wouldn’t hurt if medical academia were injected with a shot of fun. Or at least interactive learning materials that aren’t quite so dreary.
Dr. Vikas Bhushan, 33, a recent med school graduate himself, hopes to raise the blood pressure of the community with Santa Monica-based Medschool.com. The goal of the site is to produce and aggregate the best medical education content and deliver it online in a compelling manner to both the fledgling medical student as well as to a hospital’s chief of staff who may want to bone up on a new drug’s potential side effects.
“Our goal isn’t to replace medical school, but share it to a larger audience,” said Bhushan. “As a former student, I know the quality of medical education is variable. Lectures were hit and miss as to how great the instructors were. We think there is a better way of doing things.”
It’s an idea echoed by medical professionals. According to the 1999 Delphi study published by the Association of American Medical Colleges, by the year 2010, curricular materials for students and faculty will be delivered on Web sites, and even the first two years of medical school could be completed online.
The future of medical school
Currently, Medschool is in talks with the AAMC about creating partnerships with universities, hoping to come up with guidelines for delivering the site’s content to the 65,000 medical students around the country.
“Medical education hasn’t been on the leading edge of technology, and Medschool is certainly an example of the vision of what the future of medical school will be like,” said Dr. Jordan Cohen, president of the AAMC.
The goal of Medschool.com is to serve as a supplement to brick-and-mortar classes. Professors would be able to direct students to undergo training sessions through the site.
Medschool focuses on the needs of the first two years of medical school, with content on such topics as anatomy and biology. Bhushan and his team, with feedback from scores of current students, are scouting out the top professors in their fields and will coach them and help them structure course outlines.
Unlike video lectures taught by a talking head, Medschool’s teaching format won’t showcase the instructor. But students will hear the lecture, via streaming audio, and follow along with Power Point presentations accompanied by matching images such as a dermatology rash, blood smears or even CAT scans. In addition, they can access surgical videos, videos of patients explaining their symptoms and accompanying X-rays that highlight what diseases can to do a body.
“Students learn better with multi-modality teaching, if they can hear it, read it and see it,” Bhushan said.
It’s that hands-on style that wins kudos from the medical establishment.
“People don’t want to watch videotapes. They want a site that offers an active, self-directed approach,” said Dr. Beverly Wood, USC professor of radiology, pediatrics and medical education. “By offering well-vetted materials in a compelling format, it’s a good option for medical students.”
In addition, Medschool plans to tap into the $1 trillion health care market by providing information to physicians, nurses, lawyers and medical organizations.
Evolving business plan
For now, students are able to access Medschool.com’s basic science content free of charge, though later, per-student user fees will be charged to universities for access. Since going live in January, the site has 10,000 registered medical students who can participate in discussion forums, research what field of medicine to enter and where to apply for residency training.
Eventually, though, Bhushan thinks the site will be more of a business-to-business link. His customers will be hospitals, teaching institutions and even corporations that want to provide their students and employees with medical information. A learning contract for thousands of students or employees over a three-year period would cost a few million dollars, says Bhushan.
Although a host of sites devoted to giving health information already exist, both for consumers and professionals, such as Medscape and WebMD, and some universities are offering online tutorials, none exist that offer the comprehensive materials envisioned for Medschool.
So far, the company has attracted an advisory board whose members hail from U.S. and U.K. medical schools, including UCLA and Yale University.
Bhushan completed his residency in diagnostic radiology at the UCLA Medical Center in 1996. In addition, he honed his business acumen by publishing more than 20 books, including “First Aid for the USMLE Step 1” in 1992, which has gone to become a top seller in the field of study tools for medical board exams.
Medschool.com has attracted plenty of interest from investors. It has closed about $12 million in venture deals from about a dozen investors, including British publisher Blackwell Science. The company is now looking for another $25 million to fund its next step.
Medschool hopes to follow the charge of other educators who have shifted gears to the Internet. Although the online education industry is still nascent, accounting for $500 million in revenues last year, that figure likely will triple to nearly $2 billion this year, according to Eduventurese.com, a Boston-based education research firm.