Virtual Patient

Keele University’s School of Pharmacy has developed the Virtual Patient, which it claims will help medical students gain experience in effective communication and decision making.

Students interact with the Virtual Patient via voice recognition technology or by typing questions. The patient then responds, both verbally and non-verbally using a range of gestures, and later gives feedback to the trainee about their performance.

According to Keele University, the Virtual Patient can be used to explore a variety of conditions, including dyspepsia and hypertension. Factors such as ethnicity, age and gender can also be programmed in to demonstrate how these are significant to treatment.

Prof Stephen Chapman, head of Keele’s School of Pharmacy, said: ‘Training students to carry out one-to-one interviews is very resource intensive as you need to get people to role play the part of a patient or doctor. It is also difficult to standardise the process so that the students all get the same experience.

‘Using the Virtual Patient allows us to explore the full patient consultation and to let the student learn from mistakes in a safe environment that would not be possible in real life. For example, the patient can be programmed to be allergic to penicillin and can suffer anaphylactic shock if the student forgets to check. It really hard-wires the learning into the brain in a way that is not possible with textbooks alone.’

Keele University is currently working on a £50,000 project to develop four new Virtual Patients for Monash University in Melbourne as part of its undergraduate pharmacy programme. They have also developed a ‘virtual doctor’ to help train pharmaceutical sales representatives.

Pharmacy student, Rajiv Pandya, said: ‘The Virtual Patient helps you develop clarity when communicating as it forces you to speak in a way that the patient can understand what you are saying. A great deal of thought has obviously been put into patient reactions and the amount of information that patients are willing to reveal to a pharmacist. I feel reassured that Keele has this unique facility to ensure that future pharmacists can be confident in being able to practise the best consultation and communication skills.’