Hypertension is one of the most common diseases often encountered in the ambulatory clinic setting. It is linked with various other morbidities including diabetes, heart failure and kidney disease. Control of hypertension is therefore a crucial component in the management of not only essential hypertension, but also several other diseases as well.
In a recent health informatics research published in Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes, an American Heart Association journal, it was found that an online game was proven to effectively help improve the clinical knowledge of practitioners and nurses. The observed increase in their medical understanding translated to their improved skill in lowering blood pressure levels in their patients. This is in comparison with a similar group of doctors who were sent the same set of information about blood pressure management through traditional online posting reminders.
Health informatics researcher Dr. B. Price Kerfoot, M.D., Ed.M., study author and associate professor of surgery at Harvard Medical School and staff surgeon at the Veterans Affairs Boston Healthcare System, stated that the competition among the participants of the medical online game served as an additional motivation for the clinicians. He points out that familiarity with the clinical guidelines does not necessarily reflect the clinical practice of physicians. Often times, these guidelines are not practiced.
The game is based upon the concept of ‘space education’ wherein the participants were sent relevant clinical information in question form. The answer to which, together with the explanation are then sent right after the participant had submitted an answer. This process continues for a year.
Participants in the health informatics study were randomly selected in eight Veterans Affairs medical centers in New England. They were then assigned to two groups: those who would participate in the game, and those who would receive traditional medical bulletins and email reminders. A total of 95 clinicians participated in the study. 48 of whom participated in the game, and 47 received email posts and reminders.
“Testing can help with retention”, Kerfoot said. Furthermore, the health informatics expert said that with spaced education, the learners become more engaged with the clinical guidelines and are able to apply these into clinical practice and scenarios.
Alexander Turchin, M.D., M.S., a co-first-author of the study and director of informatics research in the Division of Endocrinology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, Mass, emphasizes the ease of using the game to influence the clinical practice of doctors and therefore improving the health status of their patients. He points out that the game is an “easy-to-use” and a “low-cost tool”, which makes it ideal.
“If you train one clinician you can impact many patients.” Kerfoot added. This, he said, has a “strong amplification effect”.