Podcast innovation in medical education

Podcasts are redefining how we teach dermatology to medical practitioners, as well as providing reliable health information for the community

Dr Anneliese Willems and Associate Professor Alvin Chong, University of Melbourne, Skin Health Institute and St Vincent’s Hospital

Dr Anneliese Willems Associate Professor Alvin Chong

Published 10 May 2023

Each year, millions of Australians visit their doctor with a concerning rash, spot, lump, bump or other skin issue.

In fact, 15 per cent of all GP visits are skin-related, or dermatological, which is perhaps unsurprising when we consider that skin is our largest organ at 3.6 kg or 2 square metres for an adult.

In Australia, 15 per cent of all GP visits are skin-related or dermatological. Picture: Getty Images

Yet dermatology teaching within medical schools remains limited and highly variable. One study of Australian medical schools found that a median of only three hours of dedicated dermatology teaching was delivered across the entirety of the medical degree.

Dermatology education is also a key component of vocational training in general practice, and for those who have already obtained fellowship as General Practitioners.

Given one million Australians live with a chronic skin condition and 2 in 3 Australians will be diagnosed with skin cancer in their lifetime, quality dermatology education for medical students, GPs and GP trainees remains imperative.

To meet this need, podcasts have emerged as an effective tool to teach dermatology and to provide reliable health information for the community.

The rise of podcast education

Long before the pandemic boosted audiences we were already living in what some refer to as ‘the golden age of podcasting’.

Previously known as ‘audioblogs’, podcasts were first introduced in the 1980s but it wasn’t until the early 2000s that they become mainstream. Now, there are more than 5 million podcasts available to almost half a billion listeners worldwide.

Going beyond crime and comedy, podcasts have now well and truly crossed over into education, particularly medical education.

The ‘Spot Diagnosis’ podcast has been added to the resource list of a range of medical schools. Podcast co-hosts Drs Anneliese Willems and Sarah Adamson. Picture: Supplied

Increasing numbers of medical students alongside decreasing clinical teaching opportunities and the rapid evolution in medical treatments have created a need for additional learning resources.

To address these challenges, the education team at Skin Health Institute developed a podcast called ‘Spot Diagnosis’, to provide evidence-based, relevant and accessible dermatology education to healthcare workers in Australia, including general practitioners, general practice trainees and medical students.

The podcast is freely available via podcast platforms, including Spotify and Apple Music and can also be used by a general audience to guide discussions with GPs and specialists but it does not replace this advice.

It has received high reviews from these target audiences as well as nurses and pharmacists, and has been added to the resource list of a range of medical schools including the University of Melbourne.

Benefits of online medical education

Using a podcast to deliver dermatology education is a form of Free Online Open Access Medical Education (FOAMeD). Championed by emergency and critical care physicians, FOAMeD has its roots in Australia through the Life in the Fast Lane (LITFL) blog, created in 2008.

FOAMeD podcasts are now available in most medical specialities in addition to medical undergraduate education. Podcast educational content can fill knowledge gaps or act as just-in-time training, or alternatively form part of an integrated medical school or training program curriculum.

Podcast education enables clinicians to keep pace with the rapidly evolving landscape of medical practice. Picture: Getty Images

The accessibility and convenience offered by podcast education enable clinicians to keep pace with the rapidly evolving landscape of medical practice by staying informed about the latest research, techniques and treatments.

In fact, for emergency medicine, podcasts have now become the most used form of asynchronous or self-directed education.

Skin deep

A recent survey showed that final-year medical students and interns exhibited “low confidence across many dermatological competencies”. Participants “largely disagreed that their medical studies [on dermatology] had prepared them for internship and beyond” and “they rated highly their belief that there should be more dermatology teaching”.

Compounding this, in Australia, access to public hospital specialist appointments is limited. For example, the average wait for a public hospital dermatology appointment in Victoria is over 1.5 years. So if we can support GPs in the management of these cases, many more people can receive treatment.

For instance, acne is a very common skin concern, especially in young people, where it can have a profound psychological impact. In our acne episode, we seek to equip our listeners with how to optimise the management of acne with various available treatments and dispel common myths.

In support of dermatology FOAMeD, research shows that online, self-directed learning boosted the confidence of medical students to manage common dermatology cases to a higher level than their previous cohort who did not have access to online resources.

The average wait for a public hospital dermatology appointment in Victoria is over 1.5 years. Picture: Getty Images

Transformative medical training

Designed to meet these educational needs, Spot Diagnosis is currently in its fourth season, with 34 published episodes.

To date, there have been over 40,000 downloads and 426 subscribers and while the majority of listeners are in Australia, the podcast has reached 111 countries. The most popular episodes have covered psoriasis, hidradenitis suppurativa (a painful condition that affects different areas of the body, including the armpits or groin) and melanoma.

Each episode addresses specific dermatology learning needs through the exploration of a particular dermatology topic with guidance from a guest expert(s) from that particular area.

For example, on the melanoma episode (S1E4/5), the guest expert was Associate Professor Victoria Mar, Director of the Victorian Melanoma Service. In this way, content can be explored by an expert in that particular field with the latest research and advice.

Episodes follow a question-and-answer format exploring the clinical presentations, epidemiology, investigations and treatment of conditions associated with that particular area of dermatology.

Key learning points are highlighted by ‘skin tips’ which are dispersed throughout the episodes. Listeners are also guided to a resource list, where weblinks are available to further educational resources on the topic.

The ‘Spot diagnosis’ team in the studio. L-R: Co-host Associate Professor Alvin Chong, guest Professor Paul Johnson, co-hosts Dr Anneliese Willems and Dr Sarah Adamson. Picture: Supplied

Evidence-based information

The podcast is also interactive, for example, ‘Ask Me Anything’ allows listeners to send in their dermatology questions in advance.

Unlike the vast majority of social media content, the podcast is based on evidence-based medicine, providing listeners with reliable information.

While social media has become a common medium for sharing beauty and skincare tips, it has also become a source of misinformation when it comes to dermatology. Some influencers promote harmful practices, such as using lemon juice or baking soda as a DIY treatment for skin issues, which can lead to skin damage or irritation.

The next steps for the Spot Diagnosis podcast are to develop a series of episodes to explore patients’ experiences of skin disease, called Stories About Skin. We will be interviewing patients alongside a journalist to focus on advocacy and patient education in a range of dermatological conditions.

We will also be releasing short case discussions of common diseases called Clinical Vignettes. The focus will be on how to deal with frequently encountered skin conditions in the community.

Episodes continue to be updated to ensure content remains current for medical practitioners and in turn, for the millions of Australians who see a doctor for their skin each year.

Banner: Getty Images

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