Virtual patients are a unique form of simulation technology that have advantages over other methods such as manikin based or standardised patient simulation. They afford the learner the luxury of repetitive practice, recreating any clinical scenario (no matter how rare), and can be used by an individual learner in their own time or can be a cost effective way to deliver simulation based learning to large numbers in a classroom setting.
More recently they are being used to compliment other simulation based learning technologies and can promote a focus on non-technical skill learning and assessment in manikin based simulation.
Virtual patients take the form of a computerised or on-screen patient represented in the form of a photograph, video or computer generated avatar. The initial outlay in their creation can be large but they can be cost effective in their longevity and accessibility.
At Medical Exam Tutor we have created over 100 virtual patient scenarios and in this article we will offer some insights into the process, how to maximise your learners’ experience and how to avoid the pitfalls. To learn more about our platform, watch our explainer video or contact me directly at email@example.com
Source the clinical content from an expert
Working with consultants/attendings and other specialty experts is the best starting point for any virtual patient case. With years of experience, the consultant is best placed to advise on clinical presentations and complications, as well as having a whole host of practical advice which you simply will not find in a text book. This is the best way to produce validated content and ensure realism.
Collect the clinical information in conversation with the subject expert. Using a template and asking challenging questions (“what if..?”) results in an engaging and reflective story. To achieve this, record the conversation and collect any laboratory or radiological data relating to the case at the time of interview. This is also a cost effective way for generating valid content.
Decide on a platform for your virtual patients
You will need a platform to present your virtual patients. It may be as simple as PowerPoint or a more complex learning platform like Medical Exam Tutor with high tech interactivity. Research the features of various systems carefully, keeping your desired learning outcomes in mind.
If you want to build your own in house platform, engage a developer with a track record in educational platform design and development. Sit down with them and discuss your goals, targets and finances. It may be cost effective to build your platform in stages but you should have a clear vision of the final version, so that costly rebuilds are not required along the way. You will find that as your platform develops and grows, you require more flexibility in your system, so try not to commit to a rigid system at the outset.
Feedback and performance indicators
The feedback should be helpful and provide useful clinical information that is well structured and memorable. The learners can be asked to make decisions at any point throughout the virtual patient’s story but focus on the areas that you want to promote. This will depend on your target audience – do you want to promote decision making during patient management and treatment or at the investigation point? Knowing your learners’ needs is important.
Use scoring systems and performance indicators to demonstrate performance improvement. Bar charts, polar charts, trends and leader boards are a great way to encourage your learners.
Create a rich learning experience
The more effort you put in at this stage, the richer your cases will be. If there are results or images that your expert wasn’t able to contribute, you will have to source suitable content and get permission to use it. Patient videos can be an excellent way to bring your patients persona to life, and help learners fully engage with the case. Many universities will have media and performing arts faculties, full of students who may be more than happy to get involved at minimal cost.
Use multimedia – photographs, videos, images, diagrams and flow sheets to improve both the aesthetic and levels of learner engagement. Using social media can be a great way to easily communicate and engage with learners, and generate interest in your programme.
Check, double check and triple check
No matter your level of experience, it’s essential to check your information, protocols and methodologies against currently accepted best practices. Recruit some colleagues and encourage an honest, healthy debate. Make sure your original expert contributor is also given ample opportunity to review their case.
Time for a road test
Once you’re happy with your case, it’s time for a road test. Release it to learners. You may wish to use the flipped classroom method and have them take your case on their own time. Discuss the case during contact time. Take on board their feedback. Test them against your desired learning outcomes and edit the case as required. The best cases are those that are continuously updated.
Does all of this sound a little intimidating? To avail of professional help in creating a bank of virtual patients, and to discuss access to our already substantial bank at your institution or training body, get in touch with me today at firstname.lastname@example.org