MedCast provides residents better distance learning solution

November 11, 2008

Finding an acceptable way to facilitate distance learning can be a challenge, especially for multicenter residency programs. These programs require residents to rotate through offsite locations, meaning they are frequently unavailable to attend conferences held at the central site.

Finding an acceptable way to facilitate distance learning can be a challenge, especially for multicenter residency programs. These programs require residents to rotate through offsite locations, meaning they are frequently unavailable to attend conferences held at the central site.

Researchers at the University of Virginia Health System have devised a remedy in the form of MedCast, a computer system that broadcasts lectures live via the Internet (Radiographics 2008;28[5]:1251-1258).

"MedCast provides a uniform educational experience for all residents, no matter where they happen to be located at the time of the lecture," said Dr. Bryan S. Jeun of the university's radiology department.

MedCast is installed on the main computer in the central conference room at the University of Virginia Hospital, where morning and noon lectures are held daily, Jeun said.

Prior to the start of each session, designated residents verify that MedCast is up and running and that all microphones are working. As the lecture proceeds, MedCast runs in the background, capturing video from the computer screen and audio from the microphones. Both streams are then transmitted over the Internet.

"With MedCast, our offsite residents can watch broadcasted lectures in real-time using Windows Media Player, eliminating the need for them to commute between sites," Jeun said.

Jeun estimates that MedCast reclaims one hour per resident per day, giving residents that much more time to attend to clinical duties instead of traveling back and forth.

Technologies currently available for distance learning include videoconferencing, video and audio lecture tapes, and Internet podcasts. None is ideal for radiology, in which distance learning technology must be capable of relaying high-quality images.

Jeun found streaming media to be a solution.

"Not only is this method capable of transmitting high-quality video; it is also convenient, widely accessible, and cost-effective," he said.

MedCast is designed using Windows Media Encoder, a powerful free tool that allows users to encode video and audio input from a computer, then relay this information for real-time or on-demand delivery.

One MedCast limitation pertains to bandwidth, according to Jeun.

"Dial-up connections are insufficient, and even low-end DSL subscribers may experience some level of performance degradation," he said.

A second limitation is that MedCast currently is incompatible with computers running operating systems other than Windows 2000, XP, or Vista.

MedCast is available for download at no cost.