Closing the rising skills gap in healthcare: The e-Learning advantage

Closing the rising skills gap in healthcare: The e-Learning advantage

4 November 2021 | 10min

Quick Takes

  • One of the biggest challenges to the healthcare industry at the moment is the availability of a skilled workforce

  • Implementing an e-Learning model can help overcome this challenge, and organizations should choose the model that suits them best, using either an offline, fully online or blended model

  • E-Learning has been effectively and successfully implemented in many organizations around the world and can help provide guidance to those looking to adjust their learning models

One of the biggest challenges in healthcare transformation is the availability of a skilled workforce.1 This challenge has perhaps now been exacerbated due to the recent pandemic. E-Learning for healthcare professionals can be a saving grace to help organizations meet the training and educational needs of their workforce. 

COVID-19 has not only transformed the way healthcare is delivered but has also accelerated the adoption of new and innovative technologies among providers, payers, patients, and government regulations. One consequence of this rapid digital transformation (forced transition) is a widening of the skills gap necessary to ensure patients receive high-quality care through digital products and services, such as telehealth. 

Digitally enabled care strategies may help to alleviate healthcare resource pressures while allowing patients to engage more efficiently with their healthcare providers (such as through faster consultations or more regular check-ins, for example). This can help contribute to earlier diagnosis and treatment, and improved disease management, while lowering healthcare costs. 

For this transformation to now scale and become sustainable, doctors, nurses, technicians, and other healthcare workers need to be upskilled and re-skilled on new protocols of treatment and changing technologies periodically to improve healthcare outcomes. 

There is not only a technological transformation occurring in healthcare but also a steady movement towards value-based healthcare (VBHC) from a fee-for-service model.  Changes to government reimbursement policies, medical billing, and coding are evolving in parallel with technology to accommodate the changing ecosystem. 
To meet the continuously changing wide range of educational and training needs efficiently and effectively, e-Learning is the best way.2

Benefits of e-Learning for healthcare professionals and organizations

  1. Ensure managing compliance with regulatory requirements including those for security and safety measures
  2. Continual professional development, which may lead to increased employee satisfaction and higher retention of your workforce3
  3. Uniformity in employee skillsets creating a globally exchangeable workforce
  4. Significant cost and time saving for organizations compared to traditional methods of learning 
  5. Scale with speed and quality for improved patient outcomes, which may lead to better business performance and reputation
  6. Organizations can notify, motivate, monitor, and track the progress of their employees and link it to their KPIs through Learning & Development processes. 
  7. Offers flexibility to employees to learn at their own pace anytime, anywhere on their own devices.
  8. Empowers employees with access to learn and interact with top-notch trainers 
  9. Engaging employees with high-quality content through engaging simulations, animations, videos, live sessions, case studies, or problem-based learning for the employees. 
  10. Employees and organizations are aligned with relevant skill sets for the changing healthcare needs

Selecting the right e-Learning model for your organization

Satheesh Kumar Reddy Chinnapapagari_elearning for healthcare professionals__selecting the right model_content image 2

The first step for any healthcare organization is to identify the right learning model that will suit their workforce and bring a tangible benefit to their business and branding. Leaders should start with a thorough costs and benefits analysis of an e-Learning model. This would help to get the buy-in from the management and identify shortfalls before investing.  

Resources required to build successful e-Learning at an organizational level include instructional designers, content or subject matter experts, videographers, photographers, multimedia experts, graphic designers, user-interface designers, user-experience designers, scientific writers, Learning Management System specialists, IT experts, coders, web developers, product managers, project managers, business and data analysts, social media specialists, 24×7 tech support, etc. 

Hiring the required talent to integrate these skill sets and to build and launch e-Learning successfully is a big challenge for healthcare organizations. Therefore, many prefer to outsource the entire development and management to their e-Learning vendors.

The three most common e-Learning models are: 

  • Offline or face-to-face learning. The traditional model of learning requires high-quality trainers or tutors to train the healthcare workforce periodically and in person.
  • Fully online learning model. Provides maximum independence to the learners without any classroom or face-to-face learning. This model involves individual and or collaborative learning which can be delivered online either synchronous (face-to-face) and or asynchronous (content-based).
  • Blended model. Has become the most widely adopted platform as it integrates online learning with occasional physical face-to-face learning experiences. 

Investing in the right technology platforms is key to delivering an effective and successful e-Learning solution. These requirements might vary based on the size of the organization, and the qualitative and quantitative course content tools available and selected to deliver adaptive and personalized learning experiences. However, the basic requirements for e-Learning include 

  • A technology infrastructure such as a cloud storage
  • A Learning Management System for content creation and delivery
  • Analytics 
  • An artificial intelligence (AI) layer to help customize and deliver personalized learning experiences

Integrating AI into the technology architecture seems to be the norm as it helps to deliver ‘personalization at its best”. Adaptive learning helps to provide custom learning experiences that address unique needs at an individual level through actionable insights, pathways, and resources (This will get rid of the one-size-fits-all concept). Effective use of analytics is a great value proposition to any organization to optimize their learning systems design and remind, notify and track the learner’s progress and efficacy at an individual and organizational level. For this to happen consistently the e-Learning platforms need to evolve continuously based on the trends and needs of the business. 

Content trends in e-Learning

e-Learning content can be created and delivered in the form of text, audio, video, infographics, animations, simulations, games, case studies, real-world experiences, and live tutoring. The right type of content and right modularization is the key to delivering, tracking, measuring, and even certifying healthcare employees. 

Virtual or remote training needs to be interactive and engaging because static content or voiced-over slides can be ineffective models. Interactive e-Learning engages the user to analyze and take an action to progress within the module. This encourages the use of cognitive skills in conjunction with basic motor skills to reveal an answer or consume additional information. 

The engagement aspect of e-Learning is all about being enticing, attention-grabbing, and directly relatable. Apart from being pleasing to the eye, it is also important that e-Learning course content holds the attention, elicits some form of emotion, and increases the retention rate of the information being embedded in the short and long-term memory of those targeted. This in turn can help to increase productivity and employee functioning levels. 

Microlearning elements like animations, instructor annotations, live instructions, and live video demonstrations are the best possible techniques that can provide interactive experiences, dynamic enough to hold attention, and more importantly, deliver value. The workforce should have unprecedented access to training using blended virtual synchronous and asynchronous learning solutions. The below graphic shows the different types of content used for delivering e-Learning in healthcare.

Content types used for e-Learning in healthcare

Satheesh Kumar Reddy Chinnapapagari_elearning for healthcare professionals__content trends

Healthcare learning trends in practice 

Video-based learning: With over 90,000 employees across geographies, Medtronic delivers e-Learning content that is not only efficient and concise but also effective and accessible. Though not yet into the microlearning level, they are heading in the direction of small and mighty. From a tools perspective, Medtronic incorporates video into learning solutions, both from a camera and via animation tools. They have analyzed over time that videos are the preferred tools to minimize seat time and maximize attention and retention. As a large part of their workforce is in the field interacting with customers, they have built mobile-friendly e-Learning.4 

Virtual reality: Benedictine Health System in partnership with a virtual reality (VR) company, Embodied Labs, recently came up with a new vision for the places experiential VR learning can be used and the impact it can have. The platform takes users through disease progression in true-to-life, realistic scenarios, including a field trip through the brain to see the disease and watch it progress over time. Additional experiential VR learning labs also include living with macular degeneration, hearing loss, Lewy Body Dementia, and a terminal diagnosis. Though in the pilot phase, the value and data improvement for caregivers around empathy, perspective, and learning is impressive. 4

Continuous learning journey: Blue Cross MN carved out an interesting, blended learning approach to efficiently provide a better new hire training experience to customer service employees. They divided the content into Phases 1, 2, and 3 and introduced the content with graduated complexity levels. In Phase 1, company-specific topics and how to respond to five specific call types were delivered through e-Learning courses, ILT, videos, spaced repetition quizzes, and practice opportunities. Such e-Learning strategies help close the skills gap in no time as in this case where the staff could learn and apply right out of class within two weeks. 4

Simulation: Cantel had three challenges; the need for hands-on training, geographically dispersed teams, and rapid organizational growth. To help overcome these hurdles, Canter developed e-Learning exercises based on simulations of room backdrops depicting real-life customer workflows to help train staff. This solution was easy, engaging, effective, and economical compared to shipping equipment to create the “room” layout or showing static screenshots.4

Real-world cost benefits of e-Learning

E-learning has been successfully improving results and reducing costs for organizations for decades now. IBM is reported to have saved about $166 million within one year of implementing the e-Learning program in 1999.5 The figure rose to $350 million in 2001 where IBM reported a return on investment (ROI) of 2284% from its e-Learning program.6 This success attributes mainly to the significant reduction in the company’s training costs and positive results reaped from e-Learning. IBM stands out as an example for its vision of not only saving costs but also creating a better learning environment for its employees, compared to the traditional training methods.

Key takeaways for healthcare executives looking to implement e-Learnings in their organizations

1 The two biggest challenges in healthcare transformation are the availability of a skilled workforce and implementing new technology. Hence, building e-Learning programs for reskilling and upskilling of employees will provide opportunities for career growth within the organization. This not only helps to develop a strong team of employees but also becomes a powerful branding tool for retaining and attracting top talent.
2 Be more proactive and keep an eye on external factors such as changing legislation, technology trends, demographic trends, and shifts in the healthcare industry that may affect the needs for skilled healthcare workers in the future.
3 Blended and or online learning models gives access to best-in-class training which is easily scalable and creates uniformity in developing a global workforce that can be ready for challenges. Technology and content are the brain and heart of e-Learning respectively which creates a culture to enable, drive and disrupt.
4 The ultimate end goal of e-Learning in healthcare is to minimize risk to patients and staff while providing care effectively and efficiently. To maximize the ROI of their employee time, you should strive to develop content that is concise, engaging with measurable outcomes, and with device-agnostic accessibility.
5 Learning strategies should adapt and enable teams to not only learn but also practice, give personalized feedback, train with “real-life” situations that are critical in the healthcare industry along with post-training reinforcement tools to improve efficacy.

Closing the gap with e-learning 

At an individual level, skills gaps limit employability and deprive the opportunity to improve career progression and earning potential. At an organizational level, skills gaps can limit productivity, thereby leading to higher costs and lower quality, and reducing the company’s growth prospects. At the country level, skills gaps limit the nation’s competitiveness and reduce economic and social development potential. To overcome these barriers, implementing e-Learning is the key as it holds the future for any organization. E-learning not only adds value to all stakeholders in the healthcare ecosystem – the workforce, the organization, and the country but also creates a globally competitive and scalable future workforce.

12 healthcare e-learning programs available today 

  • eIntegrity: eIntegrity is an online e-Learning platform that provides more than 40 specialized courses for physicians and specialists.
  • SimX: SimX brings virtual and augmented reality to medical simulation training. The SimX product is the first comprehensive professional-grade VR medical simulation system used to train physicians, nurses, and other allied health professionals.
  • The World Health Organization (WHO) Academy: The WHO Academy has developed a futuristic campus in Lyon, France as a cutting-edge educational facility dedicated to bringing a lifelong learning revolution to the field of medicine with 1400 courses for internal and external learners via 18 different digital learning platforms across the organization.
  • e-Learning for Healthcare (eLfH): Delivers over 150 e-Learning programs in partnership between NHS and Public Health England. 
  • UK: NHS England Saving Babies Lives: Growth Assessment Program (GAP) e-Learning modules to support midwives, obstetricians, and sonographers in the delivery of safe fetal growth surveillance during pregnancy.
  • Demand and Capacity e-Learning program: The Demand and Capacity e-Learning programme supports NHS staff to better understand demand and plan sufficient capacity so that patients do not have an unnecessary wait for treatment. 
  • Leading Change, Adding Value (LCAV): A national framework in the UK for nursing, midwifery, and care staff. The six Cs – care, compassion, competence, communication, courage, and commitment – are core values of the program courses.
  • Knowledge Mobilisation Framework program: The modules introduce eleven techniques to help plan, coordinate and implement knowledge mobilization activities to help them to learn before, during, and after everything that they do so that pitfalls can be avoided and best practice replicated.
  • General Practice Assistant (GPA): GPA assistant training program through e-Learning to support doctors and bridge the demand gap.
  • Mindfulness program: Health and wellbeing courses for a better balance in handling personal and professional demands.
  • MindEd: Offers free, completely open access, online education in over 300 topics. The program is applicable to a wide range of learners across the health, social care, education, criminal justice, and community settings.
  • UNESCO: offers free digital educational tools and resources.

Satheesh Kumar Reddy Chinnapapagari, PhD is a thought leader, providing leadership in unique and challenging situations to analyze key business drivers and develop growth strategies. He is ranked amongst the top 20 Indian-origin CEOs in US startups and top 100 global EdTech leaders. Having built products across the HealthTech and EdTech ecosystem, he is a growth enabler sought after in the startup ecosystem as an advisor and mentor. He has been passionately driving digital transformation in healthcare and education with a goal to make them accessible, affordable, and equitable.

References

  1. Healthcaretransformers.com. (2021). Article available from: https://healthcaretransformers.com/healthcare-business/biggest-challenges-healthcare/ [Accessed October 2021]
  2. Barteit et al. (2020). Computers and Education 145, 103726
  3. Turner. (2020). Article available from: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/cpd-building-employee-satisfaction-organisational-ian/ [Accessed October 2021]
  4. Stanton. (2020). Article Available from: https://fredricksonlearning.com/trends-healthcare-training/ [Accessed October 2021]
  5. Cappel et al. (2004). J. Comput. Inf. Syst. 44, 49-56
  6. Sharma et al. Article available from: http://www.damits.ac.in/ejournal_doc/E-learning.pdf [Accessed October 2021]