Telehealth Course is ‘Part of the Future’ at Hackensack Meri   

Telehealth Course is ‘Part of the Future’ at Hackensack Meridian School of Medicine at SHU

By Seth Augenstein

The COVID-19 pandemic has posed a medical conundrum: how to implement "social distancing" to stop the spread of the virus, while caring for the thousands becoming infected. How can you keep waiting rooms from becoming vectors of transmission?

Telehealth, or telemedicine, has increasingly become the answer. Such virtual visits are expected to total more than 1 billion worldwide by the end of this year, according to some projections.

A dedicated telemedicine course is now taking off at Hackensack Meridian School of Medicine, aimed at educating the medical students whose curriculum has had to change due to COVID-19.

"The telemedicine course aims to provide our students with the knowledge and skills in order to further advance our school's mission and vision, in an innovative way," said Naomi Ambalu, D.O., a psychiatrist and one of the clerkship directors at the school. "I am proud that our inaugural class will have the chance to experience an aspect of medicine that is truly going to be embedded into future medical care in a significant way."

The course involves a mix of the practical and the conceptual. Lectures will cover topics like ethics and legal aspects including billing and prescribing issues, and how to treat from afar, via a remote video connection. Content sessions will also be led by various faculty members, and will include history of telemedicine, clinical pearls, safety issues, and more.

Real-time history-taking with actual patients in the clinical setting will be mixed in with standardized patient sessions for training and improvement purposes, thanks to multiple faculty members who have volunteered to allow students to virtually join their sessions, ranging from Hackensack University Medical Center up north to Ocean Medical Center in the south.

But there are also the sheer logistics of making the connection via technology. For instance, some of the modules involve the "nuts and bolts" of how to use the camera and lighting for maximum effect, and the best practices in ensuring a secure Internet connection.

Also included will be recommendations about how to dress, and how to conduct oneself during the "visit."

The faculty who are making the lessons possible include: Elizabeth Koltz, Ed.M, director of Instructional and Curriculum Design; Bryan Pilkington, an associate professor at all three of the schools in the Interprofessional Health Sciences campus in Nutley; John Jacobi, the Dorothea Dix Professor of Health Law and Policy at the Seton Hall Law School and faculty director of the Center for Health and Pharmaceutical Law and Policy; Genna Klein, M.D. pediatric endocrinologist and diabetes and metabolism specialist; Katharine Clouser, M.D., a pediatrician; and Kristen Clark, M.D., a psychiatrist.

In this time of pandemic quarantining, the two-week class will be taught via Zoom. The course repeats again with another group of students starting on May 11.

"Telemedicine is part of the future of medicine – and the pandemic has hastened telemedicine's emergence as central to our daily practice," said Bonita Stanton, M.D., the founding dean of the Hackensack Meridian School of Medicine.

The initiative is led by Ofelia Martinez, M.D., the director of clinical skills for the school. Ambalu was brought in to assist, because of her experience with virtual visits in her own practice.

"There's been a huge shortage of psychiatrists — even before COVID-19 we were using telemedicine," said Ambalu. "But now, with COVID-19, we are really seeing how important and valuable it can be."

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