Even people who are homeless have access to the Internet through smartphones or at homeless shelters or local libraries.
In recent research, Caroline Easton, a clinical psychologist at Rochester Institute of Technology’s College of Health Sciences and Technology, says that she found in one study that 83 percent of people who were homeless had access to the Internet, which is a key finding for efforts to reach underserved people.
Easton’s Priority Behavioral Health clinic has obtained funding from the federal agency Health Resources and Services Administration to provide a telehealth program for homeless residents at the House of Mercy shelter. The clinic also has received funding to address opioid addiction in Genesee County, Wyoming County and Cayuga County as well as a county in New Hampshire in partnership with the Rochester Regional Health Alliance.
In order to close the digital divide in rural areas, they have identified specific clinics that will have Wi-Fi and where kiosks will be built out for patients at those clinics, Easton says.
“You can see this region of upstate New York is a shortage area for addiction treatment and mental health treatment,” Easton says. There are not enough psychiatrists here. There are not enough psychologists here. There are not enough addiction professionals.”
The need to educate students in skills with telehealth is one of the biggest trends local health care educators predict for the next five years.
“Telehealth and telepharmacy is going to continue to be important for our students to learn how to do,” Bridgid M. Noonan, dean of Nazareth College’s School of Health and Human Services, says. “It is very different from face to face. Students also need to learn how to utilize electronic health records. Interprofessional collaboration also is key.”
Cheryl B. Crotser, dean of Roberts Wesleyan College’s school of nursing, also says that understanding technology will be essential for students to be able to be prepared for the health care profession, whether it is technology to serve patients remotely, technology to provide genetic treatment or technology in surgical care.
Noonan says that demand for graduates with health care degrees and majors will likely be another big trend in the next five years due to labor shortages, including for nurses and in clinical lab sciences and biomedicine.
In an “environmental scan” of the health care field about three years ago, it became apparent that Nazareth needs to add educational opportunities in some new areas of health care, Noonan says.
Nazareth is in the process of obtaining approval to offer a master’s in public health. Nazareth also is developing a minor in data analytics and a Bachelor’s of Science and a Bachelor’s of Art in artificial intelligence.
After speaking with people at Rochester Regional Health and the University of Rochester’s hospital system “to find out what the needs are from the people who are hiring and employing our students, we found that a minor in data analysis was going to be very helpful in that it will help students help hospital systems and agencies” looking a numbers, Noonan says.
Crotser and Noonan both say that another important trend in educating students over the next five years will be immersing them in team-based care.
It has become clear that team-based care improves the quality of care and health outcomes of patients, Crotser says. That means providers need to understand what other health care disciplines do and how to work as a team to serve patients, she says.
“Instead of working in silos, we’re working together as a team for the patient,” Crotser says.
Noonan says that “having an understanding of what those other disciplines do is paramount to the patient’s recovery.”
Crotser also says that addressing health care disparities will be another important trend in health care education.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, it has highlighted that people of color and people who are impoverished are more likely to die from the virus or have deleterious outcomes from the virus, Crotser says.
“When you think about access to care and how the health care system is set up, do people have the transportation to get to the appointments they need?” Crotser says. “Do they have resources to get the kind of treatment they need, including in terms of the medications they might need? All of those things can contribute to disparities in health care.”
Crotser says that preparing students for the complexity of health care also is an important emerging education trend because of the variety of settings where health care is being provided continues to diversify whether it is in acute care settings, community settings, hospital settings or other environments.
Easton says that future educational needs will also include using wearable technology to improve health outcomes.
Easton, who collaborates with interactive game design professors and students, says that it is important to develop digital platforms for people who have a hard time with transportation or are living in a place with few resources.
3-D simulation tools can show people with addictions an image of their brains, their hearts and other major organs to show them what affect drugs are having on them, as well as how drugs can lead to overdoses and death, Easton says.
“We can show patients if they’re ambivalent about making a change and learn for themselves the effect that it is having on their bodies,” Easton says.
The digital tools also can help patients recognize their triggers for when they might use and remind them of coping strategies like relaxation exercises and other coping strategies, Easton says.
RIT has created a 12-week module for opioid addiction, but they are now seeking funding to add modules to help patients with co-occurring issues like depression, grief, loss and trauma, Easton says.
Easton also offers the Priority Behavioral Health & Clinical Psychology Internship to fill a shortage of mental health professionals, especially with addiction expertise. The internship also offers telehealth training.
“Our telehealth training program is especially relevant during the pandemic and the new risk factors it has created for rural residents with addiction issues and for their families,” Easton says. “The pandemic has led to unemployment, loss of health insurance, opioid/substance relapse, anxiety and depression, grief, and personal loss.”
Amaris Elliott-Engel is a Rochester-area freelance writer.c