While teaching at the University of Michigan Medical School, Dr. Matthew Davis noticed that many graduating students are less confident about health policy than they are about anything else they have learned.
The students are less certain about government health care or insurance, the doctor said, than they are about how to treat heart attacks, prevent infection with vaccinations or talk to a family about a loved one who has died.
That’s why Davis created a course about health policy that starts today to fill that gap. But since it will be available online for free, anyone can learn more about the issue, which is being widely discussed in the wake of the Affordable Care Act, which opened for business last week.
The course is thought to be one of the largest national efforts to teach about health policy that has ever been initiated.
“As our health care system gets more and more complicated, I find that patients ask me regularly in my clinic what they should do about a particular challenge or program that they’re interacting with,” said Davis, a U-M pediatrician and professor who teaches health policy in U-M’s medical and public policy schools. “Those are topics that medical students get a lot less training about than typical clinical topics.”
The six-week course, “Understanding and Improving the U.S. Health Care System,” was originally designed for health professionals but has since evolved to be open to anyone.
It is being offered through Coursera — a massive open online curriculum, or MOOC, that U-M launched last year with Stanford University, Princeton University and the University of Pennsylvania to expand education to a global audience.
So far, the health policy class has attracted more than 10,000 students from around the world, including places as far away as India, China, Russia and Brazil.
The course will span various formats. It starts with a lecture, but then the second week is a documentary about all of the U.S. presidents since Harry Truman who have worked to reform health care.
The third week is newsmagazine-style, with Davis interviewing U-M experts. The fourth and fifth weeks are a class exercise designing insurance policies; the sixth week includes national experts talking about health insurance and reform. No tests will be given.
“The discussion around health care reform hasn’t changed much,” said Michael Rubyan, a West Bloomfield public health professional and filmmaker who produced the course. “The issues we are talking about now haven’t changed very much since 1948, when President Truman called for national health insurance. The approaches have changed, but this urgency and passion to reform our system for people to obtain health care in a way they can afford it hasn’t changed all that much.”
The class is the ninth MOOC that U-M is offering on Coursera, which has expanded to include 88 universities that have offered 450 courses to nearly 5 million people around the world.
Besides the health care policy, U-M also will offer five other free online courses that will begin today. The university plans to launch eight to 10 more before the end of the academic year.
“When we put courses together, we expect them to be rigorous courses that would be the type of courses you would get while attending U-M,” said Tim O’Brien, online-course production coordinator.