Secrets of Creating and Maintaining Virtual Patient Case Collections

The 2nd International Conference on Virtual Patients & MedBiquitous Annual Conference, County Hall, London, Monday 26th April 2010

By Supriya Krishnan

On the first day of the 2nd International Conference on Virtual Patients 2010 and MedBiquitous Annual Conference, Dr Martin Fischer from Witten/Herdecke University, Germany and Norman Berman from the Institute of Innovative Technology in Medical Education, US, ran a workshop to demystify the process of creating and maintaining virtual patients.

Participants attending the workshop were from various universities, and most of them already had virtual patients running in their universities. Dr Fischer first asked the participants to split into groups to discus barriers for VP curricular integration, and then share their ideas to others.

Several issues were raised regarding VP integration to the curriculum, one of those included time: One participant stated that there is often little time available to develop virtual patients, and students have little time to identify the scenario.

Another issue that was raised was the differences in learning style: Students used to computer-based learning, compared to professors and lecturers who are of a generation where computers were not very common, may affect integration VP to the curriculum. Other potential barriers included creation of digital resources, copyright issues, validation issues, and content accuracy.

Dr Fischer told the workshop attendees that: “ One system alone, whether it is linear or branched, can never satisfy the requirements in VPs, the question is how easily can we develop a system that can be used by all the universities”

Norman Berman added that: “Learning happens at decision points, as long as you reach the decision points, you are learning.”

“We use the branched case for VP cases. VPs we develop are entirely teaching focussed and not for assessment purposes.Definitely, certain people learn by error, there are students who go back to their answers to decide the right path for VP cases,” he said. Ultimately, there is no VP use without a curriculum!

According to Dr Fischer, the seven factors that need to be considered while integrating VP into curriculum are:

  • General needs assessment;
  • The needs of targeted learners;
  • Learning goals and objectives;
  • Teaching methods and strategies;
  • Implementation/integration;
  • Evaluation and feedback; and
  • Maintenance and sustainability.

Participants were then provided with a scenario and asked to analyse the differences between traditional and VP approaches of curriculum learning, to discuss who needs to be involved in VP creation, and relating VPs to bedside cases.

“Creating VP is not so challenging in the technological point of view, but from educational perspective there are many challenges,” said Berman. “The challenge is in the teaching, not in the technology! And money is the most important factor when it comes to maintenance of VP systems,” he concluded.

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