Digital Health in Medical Education: Findings from a Mixed-Methods Survey among European Medical Students

J Med Internet Res. 2020 Jun 25. doi: 10.2196/19827. Online ahead of print.


Background: Digital health technologies promise to enhance patient-related outcomes, to support the healthcare staff by reducing their workload and improve the coordination of care. As key users of digital health technologies, healthcare workers are crucial to enable a meaningful digital transformation of healthcare. Digital health literacy and digital skills are to become prerequisite competencies for health professionals to facilitate the implementation and leverage the potential of digital technologies to improve health.

Objective: We aimed to assess European medical students' perceived knowledge and opinions towards digital health, the status of digital health implementation in medical education, and the students' most pressing needs.

Methods: The explanatory design of our mixed-methods study was based on an online, anonymous, self-administered survey targeted towards European medical students. The quantitative analysis was performed using R statistical language; qualitative data was analyzed applying an inductive categorization approach using MaxQDA 2020 software.

Results: The survey received a total of 451 responses from 39 European countries and all years of medical studies. The majority of respondents saw advantages in the use of digital health. More than half (53%) evaluated their eHealth skills as poor or very poor and 40% felt prepared to work in a digitized healthcare system. Medical students considered the reason for this a lack of education, with 85 % agreeing or strongly agreeing that digital health education should be more implemented in the medical curriculum. Students demanded introductory and specific eHealth courses covering data management, ethical aspects, legal frameworks, research and entrepreneurial opportunities,, its role in public health and health systems, communication skills, and practical training with eHealth technologies. The emphasis lay on tailoring learning to future job requirements and interprofessional education.

Conclusions: This study shows a lack of digital health-related formats in medical education and a perceived lack of digital (health) literacy among European medical students. Our findings indicate a gap between the willingness of medical students to take an active role by becoming key players in the digital transformation of healthcare, and the education they receive through their faculties.