A curriculum in systems-based care: experiential learning changes in student knowledge and attitudes

Mark T O'Connell, Marc L Rivo, Alex J Mechaber, Bruce A Weiss
Family Medicine 2004, 36: S99-104

BACKGROUND: To provide efficient, quality patient care, physicians must have a fundamental understanding of how the health care delivery system functions and how to appropriately use the various components of this system. As part of the Undergraduate Medical Education for the 21st Century (UME-21) initiative, the University of Miami in partnership with AvMed Health Plans, a nonprofit managed care organization (MCO) developed a longitudinal educational program that prepares all students for medical practice in emerging systems of care.

METHODS: The program, which spans the 4-year undergraduate curriculum, incorporates didactic sessions and practical experiences to teach about the clinical, managerial, financial, and ethical aspects of systems-based care. During the third year of medical school, students visit the administrative offices of AvMed Health Plans for a day-long series of presentation-discussions and experiential tours through the various administrative departments. There, they experience first-hand all facets of a systems-based approach to care using evidence-based practice guidelines, utilization review, quality measurement and improvement, and chronic disease management.

RESULTS: An attitudinal survey, constructed to evaluate general attitudes toward managing care and MCOs, was administered to students at the beginning of their first, second, and third year and immediately before and after their visit to AvMed during their third year. Using factor analysis, there were no significant differences in students' attitudes at the beginning of the first, second, or third year nor immediately before the seminar day at the MCO. However, the day-long seminar at AvMed did have a favorable effect on attitudes toward systems of care and MCOs in general. In addition, students performed well on post-evaluation knowledge assessments addressing fundamental concepts of systems of care and the function of an MCO in managing the care of its members. The visit to the MCOs (AvMed) offices and the day-long curriculum was replicated at another medical school, with similar effects on students' attitudes.

CONCLUSIONS: Medical students have neutral-to-negative opinions of systems of care and MCOs. Early educational experiences such as classroom lectures and panels that address managing care issues have minimal effect on these opinions. However, bringing medical students to an MCO's administrative offices, seeing first-hand how systems of care operate, and having an open dialogue with physician administrators does effect a positive change in medical student opinions of a system in which care is managed. In addition, medical students can gain new knowledge about effective systems-based practice.

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