Feasibility of combining e-health for patients with e-learning for students using synchronous technologies


  • Ray Jones PhD FFPH,

  • Heather Skirton PhD RN,

  • Miriam McMullan MSc SRCH

Ray Jones,
Professor of Health Informatics,
School of Nursing and Community Studies,
Faculty of Health and Social Work,
University of Plymouth,
Drake Circus,
Plymouth PL4 8AA,
E-mail: ray.jones@plymouth.ac.uk


Aim.  This paper is a report of a project to introduce and evaluate methods for using information and communication technologies to involve academic staff, students, and patients in a common synchronous e-learning environment.

Background.  Although there is no strong evidence for this, there may be benefits in ‘efficiency’ and for patients and students from shared e-learning. Asynchronous e-learning methods in nursing education are well-established, but synchronous methods have received less attention. However, if feasible, because they are more akin to face-to-face contact, they may be more suitable for patients and may provide a quicker development path for e-learning.

Method.  We evaluated three synchronous technologies: (1) non-commercial satellite interactive television (TV); (2) Internet videoconferencing; and (3) webcasting, through feasibility studies of ‘TV-style’ panel discussions on health topics and seminars with interaction with viewers by e-mail, inter-site research meetings with face-to-face interaction, user surveys and literature reviews.

Results.  Interactive satellite TV required the booking of rooms with specialized receiving equipment. This limited accessibility contributed to the high cost per participant. Videoconferencing proved acceptable for cross-site research meetings and is proposed for joint meetings for doctoral students with overseas centres but has the same access issues as interactive satellite TV. Webcasting is accessible to most users with Internet access and provides a feasible means of delivery of synchronous interactive material. Reported live webcasts have had audiences of thousands. Presentation formats: panel discussions with mixed patient–professional membership and mixed patient–professional audiences were acceptable to participants but engaging academic staff and students was problematic. This may be overcome with webcasting but there may still be barriers such as timetabling and students’ concerns about learning in the same ‘live’ environment as patients.

Conclusions.  Limitations in accessibility have been demonstrated for both satellite broadcasts and videoconferencing. Webcasting proved the most acceptable way of supporting a common synchronous environment. Having identified a feasible synchronous method we can now investigate hypothesized benefits for staff, students, and patients of combined e-health e-learning.