Advancements in technology have allowed medical educators the flexibility to choose from a variety of training tools to prepare their students to develop and practice important clinical skills in a safe and collaborative environment that keeps students engaged and interested.
Recently, instructors and faculty at Toronto’s George Brown College, which offers undergraduate programs in Health Sciences, piloted a virtual patient simulator from Body Interact to help prepare students for clinical encounters with patients. As part of the pilot, a research study assessed the simulator’s educational effectiveness — in particular in comparison to mannikins — student interest and engagement, and ways it could be integrated with a university curriculum. Eleven institutions in eight countries participated in the study.
Body Interact features numerous customizable clinical scenarios involving different types of virtual patients that react to students' clinical decisions — building critical thinking skills and training them on working on clinical teams.
Enhancing judgment, perception, and interpretation
The research study confirmed that both virtual patients and manikins help students acquire the knowledge and reasoning skills they need. Virtual patients encourage the acquisition of complex cognitive operations such as perception, interpretation, judgment, and decision-making — while manikins help students perform procedures and develop hands-on practical skills.
Students in synchronous classes were challenged to solve a scenario together as a group in class or in teams. Virtual clinical scenarios were based on content they had already learned so that they could apply that knowledge — and be evaluated on that application — in simulated clinical practice.
For George Brown College instructor Lorraine Betts, whose own learning experience was mostly with mannikins, virtual patient simulators like Body Interact encourage educational techniques such as asking questions and understanding the reasoning of their students during a clinical case — without students losing time or the possibility that the patient’s condition deteriorates. The simulator’s functionality encourages educators to ask and students to answer “What do you know? What is missing? What do you think is happening with the patient? Why did you choose that specific intervention?.”
After each scenario instructors held a debriefing session when students were able to review the timeline and a report of the team’s clinical performance, giving students the chance to “understand why some actions were first, second, or considered a non-priority, and how these priorities impact the patient’s condition,” Betts explained.
Virtual patient simulators also allow clinical training to continue when students are participating in clinical rotations remotely or in cases where they are unable to take advantage of an in-person learning environment.
Motivation and inspiration are critical
In addition to clinical skill-building, Body Interact was proven to keep students motivated and active. As Betts points out, the virtual patient simulator “felt like being back to the Emergency Room. The adrenaline rush, the excitement, the chance to save a virtual patient, of taking care of him.”
Results of the research study indicated that students actually had fun while they were learning via the Body Interact virtual simulator — specifically in:
1) visualizing how patients responded to their interventions and decisions
2) having the opportunity to take charge of a clinical situation, and
3) taking care of patients without compromising their safety.
Higher student engagement meant that students were more apt to repeat or play a virtual clinical scenario until skill mastery was achieved, which “helps them link theory to practice.” And by repeating a scenario in a facilitated session with the entire class, instructors could help students understand the rationales behind the required decisions and interventions.
Why consider virtual patient simulators
Educators at George Brown College came away from the research study with the following takeaways on students’ experiences with the Body Interact virtual simulator:
- Identifies knowledge gaps
- Serves as practical exam preparation
- Allows students to learn from their clinical mistakes
- Reinforces learning of didactic knowledge
- Presents a range of clinical scenarios with different levels of difficulty, appropriate to the learner level
- Helps work through clinical reasoning in a step-by-step manner
- Provides the opportunity to conduct patient care while at home or in person, individually or in groups
Learn more about how Body Interact virtual patient simulators can positively impact and enhance educational outcomes.