Generative AI

Applying Generative AI Innovation to Medical Education

Sydnor Gammon
Partner & VP, Business Development

Last month, WillowTree hosted 20 students from the University of Virginia’s pioneering Medical Design Program — alongside the program’s co-directors Matthew J. Trowbridge, MD, MPH, and Catherine Corbin, Chief Business Innovation Officer at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital — for an immersive design thinking workshop exploring how generative AI can transform medical education.

I’m fascinated and inspired by the UVA School of Medicine Medical Design Program. This one-year elective provides first-year medical students real-world training in human-centered design, equipping them with the mindsets, methods, and tools to drive innovation in healthcare.

With more than a decade of my career focused on healthcare, I’ve witnessed firsthand the inefficiencies of the US health system. Through the lens of academic medicine and as a healthcare strategy consultant, I have partnered with leading providers and payers to shape higher quality, more efficient, lower cost experiences for their patients, members, and their care teams. While the broader system consistently provides suboptimal experiences for every stakeholder involved, I’m inspired by recent digital innovations that can move the needle, particularly with the promise of generative AI.

“In the medical field, the kneejerk reaction is to apply artificial intelligence directly to patient diagnosis and treatment,” Dr. Trowbridge noted to his students at the outset of our workshop. “But WillowTree’s extensive experience in the healthcare space shows how these digital tools can drive crucial outcomes when we look more broadly across the healthcare landscape, including medical education.”

To get the group thinking more broadly, we began by sharing some of WillowTree’s previous and existing partnerships with leading health and wellness clients — to define and deliver digital experiences in patient experience and wellness, provider and employee enablement, benefits and claims management, and connected health — providing a solid basis for divergent thinking for medical education opportunities.

Led by Product Strategy Director Josh Amer, our cross-functional AI Use Case Prioritization Workshop included WillowTree Strategy Consultants Margo Bulka and Alex Goot and Solutions Architect Austen Lux, who guided the students through the RICE framework.

WillowTree’s AI Use Case Prioritization Workshop

As we dove into our AI Use Case Prioritization Workshop, Product Strategy Director Josh Amer led a discussion of medical student personas and their unmet needs and pain points. (My sister, Dr. Betsy Gammon, is a proud 2020 graduate of the UVA School of Medicine and now Chief Resident of OBGYN at Vanderbilt; she has shared similar sentiments about the strengths and challenges of today’s medical training environment.)

To address these unmet needs in medical education, Josh outlined opportunities to leverage generative AI to enhance educational offerings, ranging from AI-powered search and personalized recommendations to automated content generation and smart study tools.

Students applied a balanced prioritization framework called RICE to systematically score each opportunity and determine the most promising ideas. The RICE model considers four key factors:

  • Reach – How many users will benefit?
  • Impact – What is the expected impact on business goals?
  • Confidence – How confident are we in our evaluation of Reach and Impact?
  • Effort – How much time and resources are required?

Over two engaging hours, the UVA School of Medicine students weighed the merits and rated the potential of each AI solution, harnessing their firsthand learner perspectives to enrich the conversation. Beyond weighing the merits of specific ideas, the workshop sparked meaningful discussions around responsible AI development in healthcare, calling out both the promise and pitfalls of AI in medical education.

“At WillowTree, we design AI-powered solutions with great care, minimizing risks by rooting our implementations in a human-centric approach to use-case identification and building with an ethos of technological safety,” said Josh Amer. “We were impressed by this cohort’s grasp of AI ethics and consideration for how to craft solutions that augment human capabilities without fostering over-reliance.”

Following lively group discussions, teams shared their prioritized lists of ideas. While the rankings showed slight variances between groups, specific solutions consistently rose to the top. We also explored how teams could further test and validate these conceptual AI opportunities through additional customer research, prototyping, and market analysis.

Reflecting on the exercise, students called out the strengths of the RICE framework. For instance, unlike in other frameworks, evaluating the element of Confidence is especially useful in scenarios where groups make assumptions without unassailable data sources. RICE is also relatively easy to understand, and teams quickly jump into productive conversations without spending excessive time processing the framework itself.

Partnering for Community Well-Being

Since joining WillowTree, I’ve been consistently impressed by our education and social impact initiatives focused on local community-based organizations helping to make technology accessible to everyone. In addition to partnerships that support learning at the University of Virginia, WillowTree supports the future of technology and innovation with organizations like Computers4Kids, Piedmont Virginia Community College, and many other regional nonprofits across WillowTree’s international footprint.

Along with our commitment to bridging the digital divide with our local community partners, we also contribute pro- and low-bono services to serve the broader community. Here are some of my favorite projects:

  • Vocable AAC: a free communication platform that individuals with conditions that inhibit speech and motor function can use to converse with caregivers and loved ones.
  • Meals on Wheels: a Webby-award-winning mobile experience that supports Meals on Wheels of Charlottesville/Albemarle’s mission to improve the health and support the independence and dignity of our homebound neighbors.
  • Empathable: designed with leading researchers in the fields of empathy, bias, mental health, and organizational culture, this app uses customizable education to meet teams where they are on their journey to improving inclusion and empathy.

I was honored to engage with this latest group of UVA medical students and support their development as future healthcare leaders capable of driving better future outcomes for learners, practitioners, and patients alike. I extend WillowTree’s sincere gratitude to Dr. Trowbridge and the pioneering faculty guiding UVA’s medical school curriculum for this enriching opportunity. We look forward to future collaborations as these inspiring medical innovators graduate onto residency and careers that will transform modern healthcare through human-centered design and cutting-edge technology.

If you’re interested in learning more about WillowTree’s perspectives on AI ethics, responsible AI implementation, and AI Use Case Prioritization workshops in healthcare and other industries, check out our GenAI Jumpstart program.

Sydnor Gammon
Partner & VP, Business Development

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