Clinical laboratories (CL) practitioners play a crucial role in the detection, diagnosis, and treatment of disease, trauma, and maladies. In fact, 70% of the information used by health care practitioners in making medical decisions comes from the CL. However, there is today a significant shortfall of trained CL technologists and technicians, with 36% of the CL job openings in 2012 expected to go unfilled. Moreover, CL academic programs are shutting down in great numbers, citing high operating costs and difficulty in recruiting and retaining faculty. Over one-third of CL training programs closed in the past decade alone, with many CL academic programs in shambles and many faculty leaving the profession. The Athena Group, Inc. (Athena), in close collaboration with Morgan State University (MSU), proposes eClinic, a technology-based approach to post- secondary CL education that addresses the CL shortfall problem. The eClinic technology, developed by Athena under the guidance of and in close collaboration with practicing faculty and clinicians at MSU, will deliver authentic CL educational activities using virtual wet labs and advanced, embedded learning strategies that better prepare students for professional practice and faculty (pre-service and in-service) for credentialing. Specific objectives of the eClinic project are to develop a technology that enhances CL academic programs, attracts degree candidates into these programs, better prepares students and validates CL instructors, and reduces the cost of professional training. In that spirit, eClinic will be developed as an effective, affordable, and sustainable educational software product targeting CL programs, both 2-year and 4-year colleges, with an initial (Phase I) focus on the MSU baccalaureate CL program. eClinic will leverage Athena's demonstrated leadership in developing virtual learning environments and MSU's CL education expertise. The eClinic technology will be driven by high-quality 3-D animated simulations, virtual instrumentation, and an intimate understanding of inquiry- and scenario-based learning systems. The Phase I eClinic technology will result in demonstrable learning modules for students and faculty for use in existing laboratory-intense MSU CL clinical microbiology, clinical chemistry, and immunohematology courses. The principal long-range eClinic goal is to prepare students and faculty for successful careers in CL with a product that provides quantitative and qualitative benefits to public health. Commercially, eClinic's reach will be extended beyond CL to support traditional biology and chemistry. In addition, joint Athena/MSU distance learning initiatives will also expand eClinic's market. Finally, eClinic will be developed as an instrument training tool for the CL industry.
The proposed eClinic project advances the cause of public health by enhancing clinical laboratory (CL) academic programs, attracting degree candidates into these programs, better preparing students and validating CL instructors, and reducing the costs of professional training.