Virtual patient

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The term virtual patient is used to describe interactive computer simulations used in health care education.[1] The special focus is targeted on the simulation of clinical processes with virtual patients. Virtual patients combine scientific excellence, modern technologies and the innovative concept of game-based learning. Virtual patients allow the learner to take the role of a health care professional and develop clinical skills such as making diagnoses and therapeutic decisions.[2] Virtual patients have also been considered computer-based simulations designed to complement clinical training.[3] The use of virtual patient programmes is increasing in healthcare, partly in response to increasing demands on health care professionals and education of students but also because they allow opportunity for students to practice in a safe environment[2] There are many different formats a virtual patient may take. However the overarching principle is that of interactivity - a virtual patient will have mechanisms for the learner to interact with the case and material or information is made available to the learner as they complete a range of learning activities. The interactivity is non-sequential.


Virtual patients may take a number of different forms:

Types of interaction with simulated or electronic patients[edit]

A number of different modes of virtual patient delivery have been defined:

  • Predetermined scenario [directed mode]
  • The learner may build up the patient or case data from observations and interactions [blank mode]
  • The learner may view and appraise or review an existing patient or scenario [critique mode or rehearsal mode]
  • The VP may be used as a mechanism to address particular topics [context mode]
  • The learner may use a scenario or patient to explore personal/professional dimensions [reflective mode]
  • Banks of patients or scenarios may collectively address broad issues of healthcare [pattern mode]

Types of interaction with artificial patients[edit]

  • To create and run a mathematical quantitative simulation of a healthy person (physiology) and diseased person to test multiple hypothesis against known and unknown processes in a given set or sets of processes to help fill gaps in knowledge of the physiology or system under investigation.

Possible benefits of physical simulators and simulated patients[edit]

Simulated patients increase the availability of training opportunities for medical students, making them less dependent on actual cases to learn how to handle different situations. Unlike real patients, simulated patients can be accessed on demand and they can be endlessly replayable to allow the user to explore different options and strategies. They can be structured with narratives that represent real situations while challenging the user with a wide range of tasks. They also allow simulation of rare or unusual events, and reduce risk to actual patients in the process.

Despite their efficacy simulated patients are still a tangent and a prosthesis to reality. They should be viewed as augmenting existing modes and methods of clinical teaching.

Possible benefits of artificial patients[edit]

Artificial patients increase the possibility of exploring millions of hypothesis driven experiments on known areas of biological systems to extrapolate the unknown, which enables efficient exploration, informed research and development predictive simulation, which must also be proven by real patient studies clinical trials. If more tests can be done on Artificial patients to filter out possibly unnecessary tests or experiments, fewer subjects pharmacovigilance maybe needed. The Artificial patients insilico modeling are still in the early to middle developmental stages. It will require continual updates and development with the endless availability of new data.

Virtual patient data standards[edit]

The MedBiquitous consortium established a working group in 2005 to create a free and open data standard for expressing and exchanging virtual patients between different authoring and delivery systems. This was in part to address the problem of exchanging and reusing virtual patients and in part to encourage and support easier and wider use of virtual patients in general.

This standard has been very successful and is now widely adopted, e.g. in major projects like eViP.

In 2010, this standard attained status as an ANSI standard.


Case presentations and interactive patient scenarios[edit]

Case presentations and interactive patient scenarios are mainly designed to support the training of clinical reasoning skills with virtual patients. The systems are usually web-based and a variety of multimedia elements can be incorporated. Interactivity is often included with questions, specific decision-making tasks, text-composition etc. Most systems provide quantitative and qualitative feedback.[4]

Virtual worlds[edit]

Simulators and manikins[edit]


See also[edit]

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ JiSC (2009) Repurposing existing virtual patients. Available accessed 08.06.09
  2. ^ a b Imison M, Hughes C(2008) "The virtual patient project: using low fidelity, student generated online case studies in medical education. in Hello? Where are you in the landscape of educational technology? Proceedings ascilite Melbourne 2008.
  3. ^ Huang, Grace (May 2007). "Virtual Patient Simulation at U.S. and Canadian Medical Schools". Educational Strategies. 82 (5): 446. doi:10.1097/ACM.0b013e31803e8a0a. Retrieved 11 February 2016. 
  4. ^ Talbot, TB; Sagae, K; John, B; Rizzo, AA (2012). "Sorting out the Virtual Patient". International Journal of Gaming and Computer-Mediated SimulationsInternational Journal of Gaming and Computer-Mediated Simulations. 4 (3): 1–19. doi:10.1373/clinchem.2011.176958. 

External links[edit]