The renowned physician William Mayo said that "in order that the sick may have the benefit of advancing knowledge, a union of forces is necessary... It has become necessary to develop medicine as a cooperative science." The IAEA's Human Health Division, within the Department of Nuclear Science and Applications (NAHU), is developing e-learning and mobile learning programs to foster a cooperative community of learners that could one day span continents. The goal is to contribute to the training of radiation medicine practitioners through on-line teaching enabled by NAHU's interactive, and in the future, mobile technology.
NAHU's teaching combines expertise from information technology (on-line and mobile learning), curriculum developers and content experts such as nuclear medicine physicians, medical physicists, radiation oncologists. Information technologists, teaching experts and the content experts need to work in tight teamwork to be able to create and sustain a learning experience that will met the IAEA's quality requirements for professional development.
Internet-based, increasingly mobile, information technology has made it possible to offer two-way, real-time teaching, also called e-learning or distance learning, in which the teaching staff and the student cohort are not co-located, rather they are spread across the world.
NAHU has traditionally concentrated on training. In response to a rapidly changing technology, the Division is focusing on interactive teaching. Radiation medicine relies upon swiftly advancing technologies and applications. To utilize these advances effectively, a well-trained, multi-disciplinary team is needed, which further increases the demand for systematic continual education and training.
One of the most promising means to deliver the needed training is via "smart" devices, such as smartphones and tablets, which are significantly cheaper than personal computers and can be easily carried wherever a medical professional is working. According to a recent survey by Informa Telecoms and Media, mobile communication experts forecast that 1.4 billion smartphones will be in use worldwide by 2015. While the vast majority of these smartphones will be in use in developed countries, a significant number will be found in low- to middle income countries. For instance, in Africa, 127 million of the 722 million mobile telephones in use on the continent by 2015 will be smartphones, a notable increase from the current number of smartphones deployed on the continent, namely, 15 million.
With an estimated 3.8 billion mobile telephones used in low- to middle income countries, the conditions for introducing "mobile health" in these countries are increasingly accommodating. Mobile health means providing public health and clinical support, such as delivering on-demand reference material and medical guidance to a widely dispersed population of medical professionals, via a mobile telephone network.
Mobile health also refers to the kind of medical teaching envisaged by Rethy Chhem, Director of the IAEA's Human Health Division in the Department of Nuclear Science and Applications. "By investing in mobile learning, we will be able to reach out to a global, diverse pool of medical professionals, And, we can very flexibly adapt the content we deliver to the needs that our remote partners require," said Chhem.
Louise Potterton spoke with Chhem about the Agency's on-line "Human Health Campus" and the project that will make the Campus mobile and accessible to a wider audience via mobile phones. Listen to the interview here.
NAHU's aim, Chhem says, is to make sure that the IAEA is at the forefront of this educational innovation and provides "student-centred learning activities for its global community of learners so that they can deliver the best-of-practice radiation medicine anywhere in the world." The new mobile technology can be also be combined with social media to "enhance cooperation and collaboration among practitioners which enhances the learning experience's impact," Chhem projects.
The IAEA's Human Health programme in the Department of Nuclear Science and Applications helps Member States use nuclear techniques to prevent, diagnose and treat disease. These techniques cover a broad range of disciplines, such as nuclear medicine that enables imaging to identify diseased tissue, as well as to treat it; radiation oncology that focuses on using ionizing radiation to treat disease such as cancer; dosimetry and medical radiation physics that ensures both the patient's and medical personnel's safety, as well as the quality and efficacy of the equipment and procedures used; nutrition and health-related environmental studies that use nuclear and isotopic techniques as accurate tools for developing and evaluating food-based interventions such as food fortification, biofortification and complementary foods.