Come this winter, practicing doctors seeking to continue their medical education will be able to take Yale School of Medicine classes from the comfort of their own homes.

The Yale School of Medicine announced last week that it will be expanding its Continuing Medical Education program to include online courses, which are slated to begin this December. Although Janine Evans, the medical director of YaleCME, said that other institutions already offer similar classes to physicians online, Yale’s new course offerings are unique because they are intended to simulate the classroom environment by coordinating the lecturer’s video broadcasts with PowerPoint presentations.

Beginning Dec. 1, courses on infectious diseases, risk management, sexual assault and domestic violence will be offered to practicing physicians for a fee. In addition to these online courses, YaleCME will make available an online “Diabetes and Cardiology” newsletter, which summarizes information recently presented at leading diabetes conferences.

Yale School of Medicine Dean Robert Alpern applauded the launch of the online classes, saying that it enabled busy physicians to learn about the latest medical developments without taking time off from private practice. In a field as dynamic as medicine, he said, it is especially important for doctors to stay up to date with medical advances that occur after they receive their initial training in medical school.

“After undergraduate medical education and the residency, physicians need to update their knowledge through continuing medical education, which is especially important because medicine is changing so rapidly,” he said.

But continuing medical education is more than just a recommendation for doctors — it’s the law. Several states already have laws mandating that doctors keep abreast of medical developments once they leave medical school, and effective Oct. 2007, Connecticut will institute a similar policy. The new law will require physicians to earn at least 50 hours of continuing medical education credits every two years.

Sanjay Kulkarni, professor of surgery at School of Medicine, said the new courses will make it easier for doctors — who often find it difficult to attend courses — to meet legal requirements, since they will be able to do so from the office or home, at their convenience.

YaleCME officials said they are optimistic about the success of the programs. The School of Medicine’s free online information archive already receives a large number of hits from all over the world, Evans said, proving that doctors are not averse to using online resources.

Despite the obvious convenience factor, Richard Halperin, a local pediatrician who has taken both online and live courses, said that the problem with virtual classes is that interacting with lecturers is not possible.

“The advantage of live courses is that you can ask questions and discuss specific cases,” he said.

Like Halperin, Kulkarni said that it would be better if online courses are taken in combination with actual lectures. He said online courses might actually promote attendance at live lectures because physicians may want to attend a particular faculty member’s course after viewing it online.

Although YaleCME is only offering a limited number of courses at the moment, Evans said they plan on expanding it further in the future.