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The Next Generation Of Medical Education Tools: Prezi Bests PowerPoint

I made my first PowerPoint presentation in 1997, and actually used Microsoft’s application to prepare 35mm Kodachrome slides for a carousel projector. Since then, I’ve seen thousands of PowerPoint presentations (and a few dozen Keynotes), and had a hand in creating many, myself.

Not since a conference a decade ago have I needed to make Kodachrome slides. Yet almost everyone still uses software built around printing slides, making a linear progression of topics. The impact of this format on human thought is substantial — PowerPoint was fingered as contributing to the Columbia disaster and has spawned a lot of discussion and linkage, even here, regarding effective communication (probably all conceived of during dull PowerPoint presentations).

While compelling presentations are possible with Powerpoint (using the Lessig Method, for example) those kinds of talks require planning, and a mastery of the material. And some great stock photos. My experience in school and training is that the PowerPoint is often made as the presenter is learning the content and so is bound to lack the organization and expertise necessary for a Lessig-style presentation. People procrastinate about public speaking, and when crunch time comes it’s just too easy to flip through a a textbook, call up a Pubmed abstract, and churn out another verbose PowerPoint slide. With practice, it’s possible to whittle down the number of words and bullets per slide — but who has time for that? Much easier to read the talk from the slide itself.

While I strive for Lessig-like clarity and impact in my talks, it’s rare that I can eliminate all the slides with three or more bullet-points on them. PowerPoint, even though it’s based on making Kodachromes for obsolete carousel projectors, is just too much of a crutch.

Which is why I was relieved to see Prezi come along. If you could imagine what presentations should look like with modern computers and digital projectors, Prezi is pretty much that — more like a mind map than a slide deck.

Prezis can still be a linear progression of images, text, bullets, etc. But even linearly, it’s easy to make big concepts stand out, and parenthetical points diminutive and aside from the main progression. Tangents can literally be tangential. Related ideas can be visually grouped, and you can easily give your audience the bird’s eye view, for perspective. Most significantly, though — Prezis needn’t be linear. A presentation can go in various directions, based on audience input or presenter’s whim. I think this will ultimately lead to much more interactive, engaging presentations.

Furthermore, Prezis just look great. I was always trained to avoid flashy animations and effects — my grad school advisor wisely counseled, “Let your data do the dazzling.” And I agreed with him, especially with PowerPoint’s cheap, tacked-on effects. But Prezi’s more fluid animations have purpose — they are literally moving the audience’s focus along, from one concept to another, or to multiple ideas.

I gave my first Prezi presentation last week (here’s the public version, stripped of many incriminating screenshots and some diversions). It was a challenge, and I still have a lot to learn, but I think it was more compelling than I could’ve made the material, in PowerPoint. And coming at the end of a long conference, I think people were ready for something different.

It wasn’t easy, though. It took a while to get the hang of the zebra circle controller. There are still some things about frames that baffle me (no resize option? really?) But the greatest hurdle was old habits: Prezi forced me to think much more about the outline of my talk, up front. I couldn’t just churn out some slides to get the ball rolling, but really had to plan where I’d take the audience.

Other thoughts:

  • A poorly planned PowerPoint will bore the audience. A poorly planned Prezi could make the audience violently ill.
  • PowerPoint encourages and even rewards procrastination. With Prezi, it’s hard to make (as many) last-second rearrangements without disrupting the carefully-laid path.
  • Getting videos to reliably display in Prezis is easier than in PowerPoint. Images should be as easy, but there are quirks — .png files look pixelated, and pdf’s don’t yet display on the iPad app.
  • We are pretty close to the point where a presenter can walk around with an iPad and control (or let an audience member control) a Prezi projected on the big screen (this may already be possible with extra hardware, but the Prezi iPad app doesn’t faithfully reproduce the Flash-based web Prezis, and doesn’t yet allow Prezis over AirPlay).

Even though my talk was (mostly) linear, I’m looking forward to trying some choose-your-own-adventure style presentations, which could be especially useful for talks on medical decision-making. When you think about how many hours people spend looking at PowerPoints, it’s easy to get excited about the potential for Prezi. Other Academic EM types are experimenting with Prezi — and someone has gone and made a Prezi touting its advantages. Finally, inevitably, there’s now a blog about Prezi tips.  

*This blog post was originally published at Blogborygmi*


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Richmond, VA – In an effort to simplify inpatient medical billing, one area hospitalist group has determined that “altered mental status” (ICD-9 780.97) is the most efficient code for use in any patient work up.

“When you enter a hospital, you’re bound to have some kind of mental status change,” said Dr. Fishbinder, co-partner of Area Hospitalists, PLLC. “Whether it’s confusion about where your room is located in relationship to the visitor’s parking structure, frustration with being woken up every hour or two to check your vital signs, or just plain old fatigue from being sick, you are not thinking as clearly as before you were admitted. And that’s all the justification we need to order anything from drug and toxin screens, to blood cultures, brain MRIs, tagged red blood cell nuclear scans, or cardiac Holter monitoring. There really is no limit to what we can pursue with our tests.”

Common causes of mental status changes in the elderly include medicine-induced cognitive side effects, disorientation due to disruption in daily routines, age-related memory impairment, and urinary tract infections.

“The urinalysis is not a very exciting medical test,” stated Dr. Fishbinder. “It doesn’t matter that it’s cheap, fast, and most likely to provide an explanation for strange behavior in hospitalized patients. It’s really not as elegant as the testing involved in a chronic anemia or metabolic encephalopathy work up. I keep it in my back pocket in case all other tests are negative, including brain MRIs and PET scans.”

Nursing staff at Richmond Medical Hospital report that efforts to inform hospitalists about foul smelling urine have generally fallen on deaf ears. “I have tried to tell the hospitalists about cloudy or bloody urine that I see in patients who are undergoing extensive work ups for mental status changes,” reports nurse Sandy Anderson. “But they insist that ‘all urine smells bad’ and it’s really more of a red herring.”

Another nurse reports that delay in diagnosing urinary tract infections (while patients are scheduled for brain MRIs, nuclear scans, and biopsies) can lead to worsening symptoms which accelerate and expand testing. “Some of my patients are transferred to the ICU during the altered mental status work up,” states nurse Anita Misra. “The doctors seem to be very excited about the additional technology available to them in the intensive care setting. Between the central line placement, arterial blood gasses, and vast array of IV fluid and medication options, urosepsis is really an excellent entré into a whole new level of care.”

“As far as medicine-induced mental status changes are concerned,” added Dr. Fishbinder, “We’ve never seen a single case in the past 10 years. Today’s patients are incredibly resilient and can tolerate mixes of opioids, anti-depressants, anti-histamines, and benzodiazepines without any difficulty. We know this because most patients have been prescribed these cocktails and have been taking them for years.”

Patient family members have expressed gratitude for Dr. Fishbinder’s diagnostic process, and report that they are very pleased that he is doing everything in his power to “get to the bottom” of why their loved one isn’t as sharp as they used to be.

“I thought my mom was acting strange ever since she started taking stronger pain medicine for her arthritis,” says Nelly Hurtong, the daughter of one of Dr. Fishbinder’s inpatients. “But now I see that there are deeper reasons for her ‘altered mental status’ thanks to the brain MRI that showed some mild generalized atrophy.”

Hospital administrators praise Dr. Fishbinder as one of their top physicians. “He will do whatever it takes to figure out the true cause of patients’ cognitive impairments.” Says CEO, Daniel Griffiths. “And not only is that good medicine, it is great for our Press Ganey scores and our bottom line.”

As for the nursing staff, Griffiths offered a less glowing review. “It’s unfortunate that our nurses seem preoccupied with urine testing and medication reconciliation. I think it might be time for us to mandate further training to help them appreciate more of the medical nuances inherent in quality patient care.”

Dr. Fishbinder is in the process of creating a half-day seminar on ‘altered mental status in the inpatient setting,’ offering CME credits to physicians who enroll. Richmond Medical Hospital intends to sponsor Dr. Fishbinder’s course, and franchise it to other hospitals in the state, and ultimately nationally.

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