No Better Time: COVID-19 and The Education of Tomorrow’s Physicians and Clinicians

While the COVID-19 pandemic presents a unique and uncharted set of challenges for everyone from students and patients to physicians and educators, it also created opportunities for the increased use of technology in an industry that is ripe for change. Dr. Greg Moore, Corporate Vice President at Microsoft Health, Dr. Stephen J. Spann, MBA, Founding Dean of the College of Medicine and Vice President for Medical Affairs at the University of Houston and Dr. Yolangel (Yogi) Hernandez Suarez, Associate Dean for Clinical and Community Affairs and Associate Professor, Florida International University’s Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine joined Tray Cockerell, Humana’s Director of Strategy Advancement for a discussion on what the pandemic can teach us in crafting the education of tomorrow’s physicians and clinicians.

“We’re at a pivotal moment in our country’s history and our future will depend on the actions and commitments that we make today that position us for a better tomorrow,” said Tray Cockerell as he kicked off the panel. “Caring for each other and respecting differences is who we are as a company at Humana, and we don’t tolerate racism of discrimination of any kind. At the core of our values is serving the communities in which we operate.”

Dr. Hernandez Suarez highlighted the difficulties faced by Florida International University when the institution switched from in-person to remote learning due to COVID-19. “We are a majority-minority serving university. The majority of our students live at home or in the community, so we had the added complexity of not being able to predict what people were going home to and how they would be able to continue their learning as far as technology, Wi-Fi, and room to sit down and concentrate,” she said. Dr. Hernandez Suarez thinks that this generation will be imprinted by coronavirus. “To that end — if nothing else — we should never let a good crisis go to waste,” she said. “There have been some emerging, great pedagogic practices that we should hang on to.”

According to Dr. Spann, one of those practices that should stick around long after COVID-19 is telehealth. Humana and the University of Houston teamed up to launch the Humana Integrated Health System Sciences Institute at the University of Houston (Humana Institute) in 2019. Graduates of the Humana Institute are health care professionals across the colleges of medicine, nursing, optometry, pharmacy and social work and are skilled in advancing population and community health, with a propensity for working with the underserved.

“One of the positive residuals from the COVID-19 pandemic has been that telehealth has become much more mainstream in the practice of medicine and healthcare, including the fact that now it is being reimbursed,” said Dr. Spann, founding dean of the University of Houston’s College of Medicine, which will welcome its first class in July. “We hope that this will be the new normal. It is a wonderful tool for continuity, for taking care of folks who have difficulty getting to see us. It’s a time saver. I think patients love it and doctors love it.”

However, Dr. Spann said that he hopes doctors will never move to solely virtual practices. He emphasized the importance of being able to connect physically and personally. “The doctor patient relationship is core and critical to healing. The point I would like to make to them is technology will never replace that, it will simply enhance it.”

Microsoft Health’s Dr. Moore echoed Dr. Spann’s enthusiasm around telehealth. “We saw the world go virtual practically overnight and that was no different across industries, but especially in healthcare. We went from thousands of virtual visits to tens of millions of virtual visits,” he said. “What is exciting to me is that this has really changed the pace of innovation. Although COVID-19 has created tremendous challenges for us, our patients and our students, it’s also created this tremendous pace and speed of positive transformation in healthcare that we think that will persist.”

Watch the full conversation here.

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