Preserving an Image of Professionalism in Practice Based Assessment

This is the second in a series of top tips for educators looking to assess students in challenging environments. We look at issues around professionalism when using devices in clinical areas.

It is becoming increasingly popular to use mobile devices within a clinical setting for various activities associated with medical education. Skills that have traditionally been signed off on paper, and feedback from professionals that has traditionally been gathered using forms can now be recorded electronically, offline, on a student’s or preceptor’s phone or tablet. There are many reasons for this trend including:

  • the drive to reduce admin and paperwork associated with clinical practice assessment
  • the drive to respond to new definitions of entrustment for effective competency assessment
  • the general drive to use new medical education applications to improve overall effectiveness of medical education practice.

But there is a danger that the image of using smartphones or tablets in clinical settings—and particularly around patients—may be seen to be unprofessional. Students really do worry about this, and some more experienced professionals may have very justifiable concerns about how the patient may see this.

Is that young person in a white coat really messaging their friends while they are supposed to be giving me their full attention?

Why are the whole group of medics always on the phone or the tablet – are they just playing online games?

There is obviously real scope for misunderstanding here, and a perceived lack of professionalism. So what can be done to clear up the situation?

Here are some simple tips that we have come across that alleviate these potential problems:

  1. Always explain to a patient why the medical students are using their mobile devices
  2. Always explain to local clinical staff involved what is happening and why
  3. Arrange for stickers to be printed which students or preceptors can display on the backs of their phones or tablets with something like “TRAINING” or “STUDY TOOL” printed in large letters that can be read from a distance. Include the University Logo prominently. If you’re providing devices, you may wish to provide covers for smartphones and tablets with the message already printed
  4. Provide students with a set of small cards with QR code printed on them. This QR code links to an online page with an institution written briefing on the student assessment programme’s purpose and its use of mobile devices – aimed at a briefing for patients and local clinicians

As we continue to work with a wide range of medical schools worldwide we will continue to share our experiences through this series of Top Tips.

[Edit: An earlier version of this post implied that concerns about how patients see student mobile use were the preserve of older and more conservative professionals. A correspondent, Tim Ainslie, Senior Lecturer and Clinical Education Coordinator for Physiotherapy at Oxford Brookes University, rightly took us to task for this, pointing out that there is a very real problem if it isn't clear what the device is being used for. The post has been edited to address this.

As Tim points out, "patients want to know that they are being treated effectively by people who know what they are doing, even if they are students. To have someone consulting a device in their presence may just give the impression that the person is looking up the recipe for how to treat them, which has a damaging effect on the confidence that the patient /client may have in the individual responsible for their treatment."]