For people living in the UK, the first step to accessing healthcare usually means a trip to see their GP. This means GPs have an important role in identifying people with possible scoliosis, organising tests to confirm this diagnosis, and arranging an onward referral to a specialist when necessary.
Scoliosis is a common condition; for example, it is estimated that between 2% and 3% of children aged between 10 and 16 years old will have a spinal curvature of 10% or more, and many adults will also be affected. However, a spinal curvature may not always be obvious in the early stages and not all GPs will be experienced in assessing for a spinal curvature.
Raising awareness of scoliosis among GPs and helping to keep practising doctors’ knowledge of scoliosis diagnosis and treatment up to date is therefore important to help ensure that people with scoliosis receive the best care possible. Previous SAUK campaigns raising awareness about scoliosis among GPs and other healthcare professionals working in the community have been well received. However, SAUK has not run a dedicated campaign focused on raising awareness of scoliosis among healthcare professionals for around 20 years, making it high time for an update.
In 2018, SAUK received over £60,000 as a legacy fund from Patricia Hill. The Trustees considered a range of possible options in terms of how best to use this money. For some time the SAUK team had been hoping to run a project that would build the skill and confidence of GPs and healthcare professionals in primary care working with people with scoliosis. Patricia’s very generous donation provided SAUK with the opportunity to realise this wish and undertake a high-profile national project aimed at educating community healthcare professionals about scoliosis.
Deciding how to reach GPs
For GPs and other healthcare professionals, keeping knowledge up to date is done through a process of Continuing Professional Development (CPD). Online education modules are one popular and important component of CPD as they allow people to target their learning at areas in need of development or areas of interest and get educational credit for this work.
Following discussions with regional GP leads, we approached the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) and agreed to fund a new dedicated e-learning module focused on scoliosis in childhood. The RCGP is the leading body supporting GPs in the UK, with over 53,000 members. The college has an established team working on education for GPs and their e-learning platform has been accessed by around 110,000 healthcare professionals working in primary care, including GPs and GPs in training. Each day, the online learning platform receives around 30,000 views. Working in partnership with the RCGP gave SAUK the unique opportunity to offer our education module to this large national audience.
Developing the e-learning module
Charities, such as SAUK, work in partnership with the RCGP to develop educational content. The funding SAUK gives to the college covers the costs of an experienced team of doctors who write the content for the module as well as a wider team who develop the visual and interactive content and others who promote the finished material.
Work began on developing the module in the autumn of 2019. SAUK outlined the intended title, objectives, and scope of the module as well as the key messages we felt were important to raise. SAUK put together an experienced team with a mix of different backgrounds to try and represent the voices of different stakeholder groups, including our members. The SAUK team was led by Nick Jones, a GP, and included Carol Richards and Susannah Kraft, Trustees with personal or family experience of scoliosis, as well as Colin Nnadi, a Trustee who is an orthopaedic surgeon with a special interest in scoliosis.
The RCGP appointed an experienced author, Dr Dirk Pilat, who leads on creating e-learning modules for the college. Creating the e-learning module has been a collaborative effort. Through team meetings, shared ideas, and two rounds of written reviews, the module developed and flourished into a thorough, engaging, and comprehensive learning platform. The module was completed in August, 2020, and is now up and running on the RCGP platform.
What does the module look like and what is included?
The module aims to help GPs to assess patients with scoliosis, and to recognise who needs referral and in what time frame. It also provides information on how best to treat and support people with scoliosis through diagnosis and long-term follow-up, considering both their physical and mental health as well as the psychological impact a diagnosis can have on the family.
The module begins with a quiz which also helps people reflect on what they already know about scoliosis, which also helps people to identify areas where they feel less certain. Throughout the module itself there is a mixture of slides demonstrating examination techniques, X-rays, or other clinical images, and interactive quizzes and questions to keep the learner interested and engaged. There are also case studies, which play out imagined scenarios in which the learner follows a patient’s journey from the point of diagnosis through follow-up. At the end of the module there is another quiz so that people can see what they have learned and help consolidate the new knowledge.
What happens next?
The module is now live with new learners taking advantage and accessing the module every day. However, completing the module isn’t the end of the story. The RCGP has a dedicated team who will continue to promote the content to their national and international audience, through email, social media, and their host website. Information on engagement and interest in the module will be periodically fed back to SAUK so we can track engagement and understand the value of the module we’ve helped create. In coming years there will be opportunities to update and amend the review, with the aim of to keep this relevant to doctors as practice changes.
This module can be accessed through The RCGPs e-leaning platform
By Dr Nick Jones, SAUK Trustee