The educational potential of virtual patients has yet to be fully realised, largely because of cost and time constraints on their production. This article reports on an exploratory pilot study of low-fidelity virtual patients (VPs) created by and for medical students at the University of New South Wales (UNSW). Its goals were to advance diagnostic reasoning and patient management skills in all participants. Two groups of fifth-year medical student volunteers were trained to use software that enabled them to produce virtual patients. Their cases were then reviewed by clinical specialists and evaluated by more junior student readers. Student authors produced ten VPs, and qualitative analysis indicates positive impacts for authors' confidence with regard to diagnostic pathways and treatment options, as well as consolidation of knowledge. Student readers rated completed VPs highly, especially for their ability to sum up all aspects of patient evaluation and treatment and for their potential to provide exposure to a large volume of case presentations. Given the success of this pilot study, student-created VPs are now an optional assessment task for senior medical students, with the added benefit that this will develop a bank of virtual patients for continued use in the program.
Imison, M, Harris, P, Hewson, L, Jones, P, McNeil, HP, Moore, K, O'Sullivan, AJ, Vela, G & Hughes, C 2012, 'A bank of stories: piloting low-fidelity student-generated virtual patient cases in undergraduate medical education', Focus on Health Professional Education, vol. 13, no. 3, pp. 22-31.