Telementoring for Health Workforce Strengthening: Forging Virtual Communities During COVID-19 and Beyond
Inter-organizational virtual collaboration has the power to align groups of individuals to share knowledge and accomplish common goals. By incorporating applied learning and information exchange, virtual communities can make important contributions towards solving shared problems, even when participants are dispersed across geographical regions.
Virtual collaboration has become even more crucial since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has required industries around the world to shift to remote working environments.
With a depth of experience harnessing technology to work closely with partners in different countries and continents, the GSSHealth team was poised to expand its approach to virtual collaboration when the pandemic required a change in tactics. After launching an innovative telehealth education initiative in 2019 in collaboration with Project ECHO, a guided-practice program for telementoring from the University of New Mexico, GSSHealth further built on its virtual collaboration model in 2020.
In 2020, GSSHealth leveraged the lessons learned from its 2019 Project ECHO pilot to scale-up its virtual mentoring initiative, creating virtual communities of practice for healthcare and public health professionals across 40 countries.
“Our approach to virtual community-building is to work directly with project sponsors, in-country partners, and health workers to address the learning needs and challenges of staff at health centers in resource-limited settings,” says Jorge Martins, program coordinator for GSSHealth. “We are creating communities that allow public health specialists, front-line clinical staff, and medical laboratory technicians to share best practices across central and remote sites.”
GSSHealth-supported virtual sessions feature brief didactic presentations from subject matter experts and case presentations from health workers regarding site-specific successes and challenges. Drawing as many as 137 participants in one session, these sessions have proven popular due to their ability to actively engage participants. The secret to the success of this approach is an “all teach, all learn” ethos that emphasizes participant sharing of real-world experiences.
According to Remi Charlebois, GSSHealth technical expert and Project ECHO facilitator, “our collaborative, virtual communities have reduced professional isolation among participants and provided a platform for them to share practices and engage in mutual mentorship with health professionals from similar contexts. As a result, health professionals are increasingly empowered to spearhead improvements to service delivery at their workplaces.”
Ongoing virtual sessions are focused on SARS-CoV-2, including the impact of COVID-19 on people with HIV, best practices in clinical and laboratory service delivery, and quality assurance considerations for the diagnosis, monitoring and control of HIV and other infectious diseases.
Moving forward, the GSSHealth plans to continue expanding its virtual communities of practice, ensuring that virtual sessions reach more remote sites and more countries where access to professional networking, mentoring, and training opportunities are limited. In addition, GSSHealth is working with central health sites to establish country-level ‘hubs’ that will independently host Project ECHO sessions with other country health system sites.
To learn more about GSSHealth’s work with Project ECHO, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.