E-learning for health professionals: Systematic review

1 July, 2019

This high-quality Cochrane systematic review concludes: 'When compared to traditional learning, e-learning may make little or no difference in patient outcomes or health professionals' behaviours, skills or knowledge.'

Citation, abstract and a comment from me below.

CITATION: Vaona A, Banzi R, Kwag KH, Rigon G, Cereda D, Pecoraro V, et al. E-learning for health professionals. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 2018(1):Art. No.: CD011736. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD011736.pub2



BACKGROUND: The use of e-learning, defined as any educational intervention mediated electronically via the Internet, has steadily increased among health professionals worldwide. Several studies have attempted to measure the effects of e-learning in medical practice, which has often been associated with large positive effects when compared to no intervention and with small positive effects when compared with traditional learning (without access to e-learning). However, results are not conclusive.

OBJECTIVES: To assess the effects of e-learning programmes versus traditional learning in licensed health professionals for improving patient outcomes or health professionals' behaviours, skills and knowledge.

SEARCH METHODS: We searched CENTRAL, MEDLINE, Embase, five other databases and three trial registers up to July 2016, without any restrictions based on language or status of publication. We examined the reference lists of the included studies and other relevant reviews. If necessary, we contacted the study authors to collect additional information on studies.

SELECTION CRITERIA: Randomised trials assessing the effectiveness of e-learning versus traditional learning for health professionals. We excluded non-randomised trials and trials involving undergraduate health professionals.

DATA COLLECTION AND ANALYSIS: Two authors independently selected studies, extracted data and assessed risk of bias. We graded the certainty of evidence for each outcome using the GRADE approach and standardised the outcome effects using relative risks (risk ratio (RR) or odds ratio (OR)) or standardised mean difference (SMD) when possible.

MAIN RESULTS: We included 16 randomised trials involving 5679 licensed health professionals (4759 mixed health professionals, 587 nurses, 300 doctors and 33 childcare health consultants).When compared with traditional learning at 12-month follow-up, low-certainty evidence suggests that e-learning may make little or no difference for the following patient outcomes: the proportion of patients with low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol of less than 100 mg/dL (adjusted difference 4.0%, 95% confidence interval (CI) -0.3 to 7.9, N = 6399 patients, 1 study) and the proportion with glycated haemoglobin level of less than 8% (adjusted difference 4.6%, 95% CI -1.5 to 9.8, 3114 patients, 1 study). At 3- to 12-month follow-up, low-certainty evidence indicates that e-learning may make little or no difference on the following behaviours in health professionals: screening for dyslipidaemia (OR 0.90, 95% CI 0.77 to 1.06, 6027 patients, 2 studies) and treatment for dyslipidaemia (OR 1.15, 95% CI 0.89 to 1.48, 5491 patients, 2 studies). It is uncertain whether e-learning improves or reduces health professionals' skills (2912 health professionals; 6 studies; very low-certainty evidence), and it may make little or no difference in health professionals' knowledge (3236 participants; 11 studies; low-certainty evidence).Due to the paucity of studies and data, we were unable to explore differences in effects across different subgroups. Owing to poor reporting, we were unable to collect sufficient information to complete a meaningful 'Risk of bias' assessment for most of the quality criteria. We evaluated the risk of bias as unclear for most studies, but we classified the largest trial as being at low risk of bias. Missing data represented a potential source of bias in several studies.

AUTHORS' CONCLUSIONS: When compared to traditional learning, e-learning may make little or no difference in patient outcomes or health professionals' behaviours, skills or knowledge. Even if e-learning could be more successful than traditional learning in particular medical education settings, general claims of it as inherently more effective than traditional learning may be misleading.

COMMENT: This paper could be considered positively or negatively, depending on one's viewpoint. It provides further evidence that e-learning may be as effective as traditional learming. Whether it is more or less cost-effective is a different question that is not answered by this review. It seems likely that the choice of traditional versus blended versus e-learning will depend heavily on contextual factors, and it would be important to continue to build the evidence base in this area to provide a more granular picture.

Best wishes, Neil

Let's build a future where people are no longer dying for lack of healthcare information - Join HIFA: www.hifa.org

HIFA profile: Neil Pakenham-Walsh is coordinator of the HIFA global health campaign (Healthcare Information For All - www.hifa.org ), a global community with more than 19,000 members in 177 countries, interacting on six global forums in four languages. Twitter: @hifa_org FB: facebook.com/HIFAdotORG neil@hifa.org