Introduction: Small-group, practice-based learning is an effective and well-accepted method of continuing medical education (CME). However, one limitation is that many physicians work in communities with fewer than the minimum number recommended for an effective learning group. Videoconferencing has the potential to remove this limitation. The purpose of this study was to evaluate the feasibility, acceptability, effectiveness, and cost of conducting practice-based, small-group CME learning by videoconference.
Methods: Through a videoconferencing link, 10 learners in three communities were guided through four practice-based learning modules by a trained facilitator at a fourth site. Data were collected through evaluation questionnaires, direct observation by the research team, pre- and post-knowledge tests, a focus group, and an interview.
Results: A total of 31 learners participated in the four modules. Videoconferencing was generally well accepted by learners. The facilitator and research team observers noted that muting microphones, video quality, audio quality, and audio lag all somewhat hindered discussion. Overall, the facilitator found moderating by videoconference only slightly more difficult than a face-to-face session. There was evidence of knowledge gain, with post-test scores being 20% higher than pretest scores (p = .006). Learners reported nine practice changes from taking the modules. At commercial rates, telecommunications costs per videoconferenced module were approximately CAN$1,200.
Discussion: Videoconferencing has the potential to bring the benefits of small-group, practice-based learning to many physicians; however, strict attention to videoconferencing techniques is required. Cost is also an important consideration.