With all the new headlines about new developments in healthcare, it’s no surprise that the speed of medical knowledge creation has reached breakneck speeds.In 1950, the estimated amount of time it would take to double medical knowledge was 50 years. By 1960 it was 10 years. Now the projected time it will take to double medical knowledge in 2020 will be under three months.
As part of an effort to ensure that the workforce is prepared for next-generation healthcare problems, Silicon Valley online educator Coursera has launched a new healthcare vertical with 100 courses across 30 specializations ranging from bioinformatics to fundamentals of immunology to the business of healthcare. Subscriptions range from $39 to $79 a month, depending on the specialization.
The company is also offering two public health master’s degree programs through partnerships with the University of Michigan and Imperial College London.
Coursera co-founder Daphne Koller said the creation of the new vertical driven in part by the structural and demographic factors expected to put more strain on the global health system and necessitate more trained healthcare workers entering the field.
The aging world population has meant an increase in chronic disease burden and the widespread global use of antibiotics has led to a resurgence of medication-resistant infectious disease.
he pace of innovation in healthcare has also accelerated with the wider availability of medical data, as well as the research and clinical tools built to harness it. New therapeutic classes like immunotherapy and cell therapy have also emerged, along with a gradual shift to managed care which have changed some of the foundational economic structures of how healthcare is provided.
“Each of these trends poses a different set of skills which in most cases were never taught in medical school, or in most cases didn’t even exist when people were in medical school,” Koller said.
The new courses offered by Coursera are meant to provide both entry point into the healthcare field, while also tapping into the growing market of Continuing Medical Education (CME).
The CME industry has matured to a multi-billion industry for healthcare professionals looking to update their knowledge base with new policies, procedures, subjects and practices. These courses are often required for board-certification or licensing requirements and are often paid for by healthcare employers.
Michael Pitt, a medical education advocate and University of Minnesota pediatrician, said the development of CME as a named industry has led to an explosion – as well as potential ethical issues when are sponsored by pharma companies or medical device manufacturers.
“There’s now money in offering CME courses, in validating that it’s high enough quality and budgets dedicated towards CME,” Pitt said. “The question then sometimes is ‘where can I go, instead of what do I need to learn.’”
Eren Bali, founder of online educator Udemy and primary care clinic network Carbon Health, said that current offerings in the CME market are largely focused on the distribution of required credits, as opposed to actual educational attainment.
“The analogy I use is they’re like airport restaurants because you’re there, you’re hungry and you have to eat there,” Bali said. “Similarly people are incentivized to just provide CME credits for the same low-quality course, but that doesn’t last forever.”
Koller cited the “mixed quality” across CME providers and positioned Coursera’s partnerships with name-brand universities as a differentiator that validates their course quality.
Of course, there’s also a value proposition for those universities helping to produce content for the Coursera platform. Besides revenue from their partnership, there’s also the added marketing benefit in reaching a global audience of potential healthcare workers.
“This allows them to opportunity to scale up and out,” Koller said. “This really opens up the opportunities for them to reach that larger audience while still maintaining a level of rigor and quality that they’ve been able to do in their on campus offerings.”
Pitt, who also directs of the University of Minnesota global health education program, has long spoken about the need for education that varies based on competency. Still, he’s in two minds on whether online education through platforms like Coursera are the solution.
“Even with the best versions of online video-based education, a lot of people just click through as fast as possible to show that they’ve completed what was required,” Pitt said. “The hope is that Coursera, with as big of a program as they have, can use their metrics and feedback to actually improve and adapt as time goes on.”