Virtual patients for budding doctors

Last Updated 14 July 2010, 11:15 IST

Electronic Virtual Patients (eViP)  can prove a useful teaching tool while teaching medicine to budding doctors and other healthcare professions.

A virtual patient (VP) is defined as: “an interactive computer simulation of real-life clinical scenarios for the purpose of medical training, education, or assessment”. Virtual Patients (VPs) are now recognised by the medical education community as a very effective tool for developing clinical reasoning.

However, VPs are time-consuming and expensive to produce from ‘scratch’, and even leading e-learning institutions cannot produce a sufficient number to encompass the entire medical or healthcare curricula. eViP,  at http://www.virtualpatients.eu/, hopes to address this issue by creating a bank of 320 repurposed and enriched virtual patients who are made available to the medical community under a Creative Commons Licence.
Quite a number of VPs have already been included in the repertory which can be straightaway accessed by medical students and teachers at http://www.virtualpatients.eu/repetory/?vpId=evip:vp:1000523.  These include Catherine Miller, a five-month old Virtual Patient, who has been admitted to the Emergency Department with a high temperature — the cause of her illness could be Meningitis, Bacterial Meningitis, or Sepsis which the would-be doc needs to zero-in on by progressing through the case methodically.

A student interested in oncology would find the Virtual Patient Isabelle Karani ideal for case study. 

Isabelle, a 43-year-old sales woman admitted to hospital with shortness of breath, was diagnosed with breast cancer and was undergoing chemotherapy. The case of Herr Müller, another Virtual Patient,  a 40-year-old engineer with blurred vision, weight loss, polyuria, diagnosis diabetes Type 1, would interest students who are specialising in diabetes management.

All the virtual patients are based on real patient cases. They are obtained with the patient’s full consent, and the identity of the patient is not revealed.  The latest addition to the repetory includes virtual slides in the path lab — virtual slides combined with Computer Supported Collaborative Learning (CSCL), powerful tools to teach pathology and related subject areas.

Medical students collaborate online using this system developed by Jack Cleutjens, MD, a biologist working at the Department of Pathology at Maastricht University.

eViPs have been repurposed under eight different contexts adapted for different cultures, languages, or making them suitable for different educational levels, disciplines or healthcare professions. Students and teachers would find the Repurposing of VIPs to different educational scenarios very useful as they can be deployed in different ways in the curriculum. These include Familiarisation VPs: used before teaching sessions; In-session VPs: within teaching sessions; Review VPs: after lessons and before exams; Assessment VPs: for formative/ summative assessment and sVPs: for Self-directed learning. 

eViP is a coming together of fragmented e-learning tools in a unitary programme.  The main aim of eViP is to promote the inter-professional sharing of VPs between different healthcare disciplines such as medicine, nursing, physiotherapy and dentistry. The eViP bank of repurposed and enriched VPs, and all associated resources have been made available under a Creative Commons License, hence, there is no need to pay to access the eViP patients for either learning or teaching purposes The vision of the eViP Programme is to create a shared online bank of virtual patients (VPs), adapted for multicultural and multilingual use, for the improved quality and efficiency of medical and healthcare education. Among the  collaborators of eViP project are MedBiquitous, a leading developer of healthcare standards,  and nine universities  — St Georges University of London, UK; Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden; Universität Heidelberg, Germany; Ludwig Maximilians Universität (LMU), Germany; Universität Witten/Herdecke, Germany; The University of Warwick, Coventry, UK; Universiteit Maastricht, The Netherlands; Uniwersytet Jagiellonski, Poland,  and Universitas Iuliu Hatieganu Cluj-Napoca, Romania. The programme  started in September 2007  is due to finish in September 2010.

eViP’s online bank of virtual patients (VPs) can virtually help enhance the quality and efficiency of medical and healthcare education.  

(Published 14 July 2010, 11:15 IST)

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