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Building a Better Way to Learn Medical Knowledge

Shiv Gaglani and Ryan Haynes are looking to revolutionize the way that your future doctor learns.

Gaglani and Haynes met five years ago at John’s Hopkins School of Medicine, where they were anatomy team-based learning partners. Both first-year medical students had backgrounds in neuroscience, computer science and education—and both were overwhelmed by the amount of information they were expected to digest and retain over the course of their medical training.

Learning medical knowledge, they quickly realized, is uniquely challenging for three reasons. First, there is an incredible breadth of information, and it is growing daily—it is estimated that the doubling time of medical knowledge will be a mere 73 days by the year 2020. Second, as a result of research and the development of new treatments, this body of knowledge is constantly changing. Finally—and most disconcertingly—failure to remember and apply this knowledge could potentially put patients at risk.

Rote memorization, they agreed, just wouldn’t cut it.


Ryan Haynes

So the two students decided to build a studying tool that incorporated the best practices of learning science. “There’s quite a lot of literature around the best ways to learn, but all those different techniques are scattered around various education research papers,” explains Haynes.  With their platform, Gaglani and Haynes aimed to gather and implement these best practices in one place.

The two worked together on the learning platform during their two pre-clinical years and applied for funding. Days before beginning their clinical rotations, Haynes and Gaglani were accepted into the Dreamit Health tech incubator.  “We didn’t pick up our pagers that day,” Haynes remembers. “We got in the car and drove to Philly and started Osmosis as a company.”

Today, Osmosis is known for creating high quality and memorable content—particularly videos—for medical students, and aims to improve the way these students learn and retain information about complex medical topics. The scripts are written by MDs, PhDs or biomedical engineers, and then turned over to an in-house development team that produce and animate videos.

And these videos are incredibly popular. In only one year, video views have jumped from 1000 to 1.5 million per month. They’re being used by medical students, premedical students, nursing students, and even patients and families to learn about topics ranging from atrial fibrillation to the Zika virus.  Osmosis is currently the largest provider of health and medical videos to Wikipedia.


Aside from students and patients, stakeholders too have been quick to see the value in these videos. Groups like Kaiser Permanente, Rush Medical College, The Merck Manual and the American Board of Medical Specialties have all helped fund production of Osmosis’ videos. Osmosis is actively partnering with universities, healthcare organizations, and others to produce and disseminate more videos.

Shiv Gaglani

Shiv Gaglani

The democratization of medical knowledge is central to the company’s mission, which is why their videos are accessible for free. “Anyone anywhere in the world could potentially learn the basics of medicine or nursing online for free,” explains Gaglani.

Students who want to access additional features can subscribe to the Osmosis platform, which leverages additional cognitive science techniques to help students retain information over a long period of time.

For example, the platform uses spaced repetition—the periodic review of previously learned materials—to ensure that users’ knowledge doesn’t decay after they’ve sat for an exam. Osmosis also uses pop-culture associations to “anchor” memories more firmly in students’ minds. “When we post clinical cases, we often do these cases around something that’s very memorable, for example a celebrity,” explains Haynes.

Additionally, the platform’s machine learning algorithm reads students’ course documents and then recommends curated content and a study plan. To date, over 20 medical school and nursing schools that have subscribed to the platform for their students, and students from 500+ institutions use Osmosis.

Gaglani and Haynes have big plans to expand their offerings in 2017.  In addition to producing more content, they believe that the learning principles that power Osmosis can be used to teach students in other health professions, and someday different disciplines all together.

If you’re interested in learning more about Osmosis, or in collaborating with them on their next batch of videos, you can get in touch with them here.

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