Virtual Courses Should Be Here to Stay

Virtual Courses Should Be Here to Stay

August 2020

Their effectiveness and immediacy improve public safety

Editorial by Stephen Schenthal, MD, MSW, Founder and CEO of PBI Education

Remedial education is on the cusp of a new era. When pandemic-related restrictions made in-person courses impossible, remedial education providers launched virtual programs. We have been delighted by the success of our effort, PBI Education’s Virtual Live Classroom.™ These highly interactive courses not only offer distinct advantages over traditional, in-person classrooms, they also radically improve public safety by accelerating remediation.

A sea change in remedial education. 

In the past, licensing boards insisted that all remedial courses be conducted in person. They believed, as we all did, that cases of professional misconduct could be adequately addressed only in an in-person setting. The system worked well enough —  with one exception. There weren’t always enough courses. Disciplined practitioners often had to wait months for a class to open up. 

Then COVID struck.

Almost overnight, in-person courses became impossible to convene, while the need for competent practitioners soared. Boards continued reviewing complaints and identifying healthcare professionals who needed remedial attention. But there were no longer any in-person courses, and no one knew when they would return.

Rather than allow professionals to go on practicing indefinitely with deficits that compromised patient safety, boards moved quickly to authorize virtual courses. It was the right decision. In fact, it has turned out to be a brilliant decision.

Based on our experience, virtual courses are not merely as good as live courses, they are better in several important ways. Consider these benefits:

PBI Education
IN-PERSON CLASSES: _____PBI’s VIRTUAL LIVE CLASSES:
Allow interactive participation
Participants learn by sharing experiences and discussing material in small courses.
Enhance interactive participation
Participants still learn by sharing experiences and discussing material in small courses. But with everyone facing one another throughout the class, spontaneous interactions are more frequent. And it’s easier than ever to join classroom discussions by raising your hand either literally (on screen) or virtually (using an icon).
Build trust gradually
Skilled faculty work to create a safe space where participants feel comfortable sharing difficult experiences and offering honest insights. Informal interactions in and out of class also help.
Build trust quickly
Participants sitting in their own homes start out feeling more secure, so faculty can build trust more quickly. And the sooner people feel “at home,” the sooner they’re able to be emotionally honest with themselves and each other. Helpful conversations continue to play an important role, thanks to a “virtual lunchroom” and person-to-person text chats.
Offer personal attention 
Attentive faculty do their best to ensure everyone gets the help they need. Individuals can confer privately with faculty before and after class.
Encourage personal attention
Faculty remain closely connected to each participant in multiple ways, so they can quickly identify people who may need personal attention. You can also ask for help via private chat without attracting unwanted attention. And virtual one-on-one meeting rooms are more comfortable and confidential than hallway meetings before and after class.
Involve costly delays
Practitioners often wait months for spots to open up. Traveling to courses is time-consuming and expensive. 
Ensure prompt remediation
Disciplined practitioners never wait more than a few weeks for a course (see below). No travel means less expense and less time away from family and patients.

Prompt remediation improves public safety

The logistics involved in mounting a virtual course are minimal compared to an in-person course. That means providers like PBI Education can add classes any time as needed. In the past, we had to establish our schedule months in advance based on anticipated need, and subject to hotel or conference facility availability. Once a particular course filled up, that was it until the next round. But now that all our courses are virtual, we can accommodate unexpected surges in demand by adding classes in a matter of weeks. 

The value of this capability and flexibility cannot be overstated. Until now, boards had to give disciplined practitioners up to a year to complete their remedial education. Course providers simply could not guarantee that appropriate classes would be available sooner. As a result, some practitioners continued practicing for months without remedying the weakness identified during the disciplinary process. This not only put patients at risk, it risked the practitioners’ career, as well as the profession’s reputation. And by driving a wedge between a board order and its implementation, the delay weakened the immediacy of the board’s disciplinary  impact.

To be candid, we did not foresee all these benefits when we started developing our Virtual Live Classroom™ (VLC) program a few years ago. As a virtual company — our nationwide faculty and staff confer regularly by phone, email, and virtual meetings — we were predisposed towards virtual education. And we wanted to be able to offer the option to anyone who might have trouble making it to an in-person course. PBI Education attendees were already used to accessing pre-course materials and submitting pre-course assignments online through our integrated Course Portal. And PBI graduates have been continuing their remedial education via teleconferencing for years through our weekly Maintenance and Accountability Seminars. So going virtual was, in many ways, a logical next step for us.

But now that we have experienced all the advantages of virtual education, we are committed to continuing our VLC program. From now on, all PBI Education courses — Professional Boundaries, Civility and Communication, Ethics and Professionalism, Prescribing, Medical Records, and Laws and Rules — will be offered virtually.

It’s time to demand more

We are not going back to business-as-usual, even after the pandemic abates. We hope others will also realize and take advantage of all the benefits virtual education offers. In the short- to medium-term, COVID is likely to continue making in-person classes unsafe and impractical. But even after herd immunity or an effective vaccine changes that, we urge boards to establish virtual classes as the new gold standard for remedial education.

VIRTUAL COURSES

  • Improve public safety
  • Ensure prompt remediation
  • Enhance interactive participation
  • Build trust quickly
  • Encourage personal attention

Most importantly, we hope boards will quickly rethink the prolonged timeframe of their remedial education orders. There is no longer any reason for disciplined practitioners to wait months or even a year to remediate their professional deficits. They owe it to themselves and the safety of their patients to complete needed coursework within 30 to 60 days. Boards should demand no less.