It is becoming increasingly important for health professionals to have an understanding of health informatics. Education in this area must support not only undergraduate students but also the many workers who graduated before informatics education was available in the undergraduate program. To be successful, such a program must allow currently-employed students with significant work and family commitments to enroll.
The aim was to successfully create and teach a distance program in health informatics for the New Zealand environment.
Our students are primarily health professionals in full time employment. About 50% are doctors, about 25% nurses, and the rest include dentists, physiotherapists, and medical managers. Course material was delivered via the World Wide Web and CD-ROM. Communication between students and faculty, both synchronous and asynchronous, was carried out via the Internet.
We have designed and taught a postgraduate Diploma of Health Informatics program using the Internet as a major communication medium. The course has been running since July 1998 and the first 10 students graduated in July 2000. About 45 students are currently enrolled in the course; we have had a dropout rate of 15% and a failure rate of 5%. Comparable dropout figures are hard to obtain, but a recent review has suggested that failure-to-complete rates of 30% to 33% may be expected.
Internet technology has provided an exciting educational challenge and opportunity. Providing a web-based health informatics course has not been without its frustrations and problems, including software compatibility issues, bandwidth limitations, and the rapid change in software and hardware. Despite these challenges, the use of Internet technology has been interesting for both staff and students, and a worthwhile alternative for delivering educational material and advice to students working from their own homes.