Faculty and Residents Develop Software to Enhance Interaction, Facilitate Precision Education

Published in Restore - Winter 2019 Restore

Medical residents in the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (PMR) at The Johns Hopkins Hospital say there’s never enough time for questions during busy clinical rotations with attending physicians. To address the problem, the two groups developed an online interface where they can communicate without the restraints of time or space. 

“It’s time-effective for me because the resident will send a question that I can quickly respond to when I have a few minutes,” says Samuel Mayer, a physiatrist on the team developing the software. 

Called WeLearnON, the software provides a place for residents to ask questions—and physicians to answer—at anytime from anywhere using a desktop or mobile device. Users create posts and comment on posts all in one place. 

The team started working on the concept in late 2017 and launched a prototype in mid-2018. Since then, users have initiated hundreds of conversations. 

For Stephanie Van, a PMR resident on the team that developed the software, WeLearnON provides an open door for communication as well as access to a searchable database of questions and answers from other residents and attending physicians. 

When a resident writes a post, keywords bring up any related conversations for review. When the post is complete, the resident designates an attending physician, who then receives a notification to answer the post. Any post can include an attachment or ask a librarian to find a resource. 

Alexis Coslick, another PMR resident developing the software, appreciates being able to see what other people ask as well as learn from conversations about rotations she hasn’t completed. “It allows residents to be interactive, not only with their attendings, but with each other. You can chime in on any of the posts.” 

Aside from communication, WeLearnON enables medical education to be tailored to learners. For example, if a resident wants to learn more about respiratory function and pain medications, she or he asks a question in the interface. Data from this post, along with data from all the other posts, is analyzed by the software to create visual representations of topics that come up most, types of questions asked most and which learners ask which questions. 

“Attending physicians can choose to dedicate in-person teaching time to a topic if it comes up frequently or is particularly important,” says Mayer. “The data can also be applied to inform how to work with a particular student or how to shape a curriculum.” 

Van is excited to apply the tool in other Johns Hopkins residency programs such as general surgery. “Hopkins has a deep history in revolutionizing resident education, and everyone in this group believes this is a revolutionary learning tool,” she says. “It has flexibility to help learners in all sorts of specialties, so we are excited to share it.”