Can virtual International exchanges improve primary health care?

Authors: Forde, E., Knight, A., Steele, G., Lyness, E., Wedderburn, C. and Butcher, A.

Conference: Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) conference: A fresh approach to general practice

Dates: 11-12 February 2021


Aims/Objectives/background: Globalisation has a significant impact on our health through an increasingly interconnected world and, even before the COVID pandemic, there were calls in the medical literature for all doctors to have up-to-date training in important global health issues. Traditionally doctors developed skills in international medicine through medical electives overseas but these often precluded qualified doctors with work and family commitment, and have been limited by COVID for the foreseeable future. An alternative, innovative approach may be through ‘virtual international exchanges’.

Content: A systematic literature review on ‘virtual international exchange’ (VIE) and ‘collaborative online international learning’ for health care professionals was undertaken to determine the potential benefits of developing virtual international exchanges for local GPs and GP trainees. We summarise the literature and discuss key themes that emerged, such as the ability of virtual exchanges to foster cross cultural understanding; improve communications skills; enhance learning of clinical topics; and prepare clinicians to work in multicultural environments.

Relevance/Impact: Virtual international exchanges offer an innovative means to develop cross cultural understanding, foster sustainable links between primary healthcare clinicians and promote good practice internationally.

Outcomes/Discussion: International exchanges for NHS doctors have often been available for the privileged few with many qualified GPs not being able to travel overseas due to work and family commitments. COVID has made them unlikely for anyone for the forthcoming future. We aim to pilot VIE for GPs locally and further research is needed to establish how they can best promote excellence in primary healthcare internationally.

Source: Manual