e-Learning initiatives to support prescribing


Professor Simon Maxwell, Clinical Pharmacology Unit, University of Edinburgh, Clinical Research Centre, Western General Hospital, Edinburgh, EH4 2XU, UK. Tel.: + 131 537 1826. E-mail: s.maxwell@ed.ac.uk


Preparing medical students to prescribe is a major challenge of undergraduate education. They must develop an understanding of clinical pharmacology and acquire knowledge about drugs and therapeutics, as well as the skills to prescribe for individual patients in the face of multiple variables. The task of delivering the learning required to achieve these attributes relies upon limited numbers of teachers, who have increasingly busy clinical commitments. There is evidence that training is currently insufficient to meet the demands of the workplace. e-Learning provides an opportunity to improve the learning experience. The advantages for teachers are improved distribution of learning content, ease of update, standardization and tracking of learner activities. The advantages for learners are ease of access, greater interactivity and individual choice concerning the pace and mix of learning. Important disadvantages are the considerable resource required to develop e-Learning projects and difficulties in simulating some aspects of the real world prescribing experience. Pre-requisites for developing an e-Learning programme to support prescribing include academic expertise, institutional support, learning technology services and an effective virtual learning environment. e-Learning content might range from complex interactive learning sessions through to static web pages with links. It is now possible to simulate and provide feedback on prescribing decisions and this will improve with advances in virtual reality. Other content might include a student formulary, self-assessment exercises (e.g. calculations), a glossary and an on-line library. There is some evidence for the effectiveness of e-Learning but better research is required into its potential impact on prescribing.