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Immersion learning drives wider adoption of genomic medicine

Immersion learning not only improves the skills and knowledge of individual clinicians but drives new linkages between medical specialties and genetics services that can improve patient care, according to new Melbourne Genomics research findings.

The research evaluated a program that gave mid-career clinicians substantive time away from their usual role to learn how genomic medicine could be best applied in their specialty. Twelve clinicians from healthcare leaders Royal Melbourne Hospital, Royal Children’s Hospital, Peter MacCallum, Austin Health and Monash Health were selected to immerse themselves in genomics, for an average of six months full-time.

The intent was to establish ‘knowledge leaders’ who would influence their peers and foster adoption of genomic medicine in specialties outside the usual orbit of genetics services.

“We believe that together, these hospitals are the first globally to establish such a program and rigorously evaluate its impact,” said Melbourne Genomics Executive Director, Professor Clara Gaff, who, with Dr Melissa Martyn, are lead authors on the recently published research findings.

“Evaluation showed that the immersion experience improved clinicians’ knowledge and skills, led to them integrating genomics into their own practice and – most importantly - positioned them as opinion leaders in their hospital and medical specialty,” said Dr Martyn.

“We also found that peer-to-peer communication across medical disciplines was strengthened and widened. The clinicians involved were empowered to reach out across professional boundaries as a result of their experience – linking their specialty and specialist genetic services.”

“We know from countless studies that the integration of new practices and technologies into healthcare can take up to 17 years – even when there is evidence to show that the new is better than the old,” said Prof Gaff. “For patients to be able to benefit from new innovations, doctors first need to know how to appropriately use them.”

“Any initiative that can be shown to accelerate the process of positive change is to be applauded.”

“For the benefits of genomics to flow to patients, medical specialists need to gain confidence in and experience with this new kind of testing,” said Dr Martyn. “The start of that change process is evidence (peer-reviewed studies being published), but much more is needed. Practical experience and tangible examples of how genomics can be incorporated into practice are key.”

The selected medical specialists undertook a placement with a clinical genetics service or laboratory, or – for specialties where genomics had not yet entered clinical care – conducted a related research project. In post-project evaluation interviews, they reported both immediate changes in their use of genomic tests and wider services impacts.

“I think the most significant part of the project will be educating others and developing, changing the systems in the hospitals,” said one participant. “[T]he greatest legacy from when I’ve finished this position is getting those system changes in place and getting a formal process of upskilling and credentialing in place.”

The research results have been published in the peer-reviewed journal, Patient Education and Counselling.

For more on the immersion learning program, click here.

The full list of Melbourne Genomics publications is available here.