Newswise — Bethesda, Md. (February 14, 2018)—Medical students in India are using computer-simulated virtual patients (SVPs) as a learning tool for clinical skills and are becoming more enthusiastic about their studies. SVPs allow students to interact with and perform procedures on pretend patients that are programmed to exhibit symptoms of illness or injury. The article is published in Advances in Physiology Education.

Due to a tight program structure, medical schools in India typically do not expose students to real patients until the second year of study. Text-based cases teach clinical reasoning in the first year but do not provide the opportunity to practice clinical examination or develop the skills to take patient medical histories. In addition, the lack of early clinical exposure has been shown to reduce students’ enthusiasm when they begin clinical studies. Faculty at University College of Medical Sciences in Delhi, India, developed two SVPs to “provide an opportunity to engage students in [case-based learning] with greater frequency” and improve learning in endocrine physiology.

Students in the pilot program used a male and female SVP with classic diabetes symptoms to practice clinical reasoning skills, forming a diagnosis and developing personal interactions with patients by taking medical histories. Three-dimensional representations of the SVPs provided visual clues to aid the diagnosis process. Each SVP included an on-screen guide that allowed students to use a virtual stethoscope during the exam. After a two-week trial period of self-directed learning, the students scored their experiences with the SVPs on a five-point scale. All activities scored consistently high, including questions about experience and interest. Many enjoyed the tasks and felt the SVPs helped them prepare for their exams. Responses also indicated that SVPs provided variety in the learning environment and contributed to personalized learning.

The research team imagines a larger role for SVPs in the future, not only to pique student interest and improve learning, but also to help students embrace diversity early in their careers. “Our cases can be used by U.S. medical schools to understand cross-cultural issues (during history taking) as well as illness perspectives in developing countries,” the researchers wrote.

Read the full article, “Development and validation of simulated virtual patients to impart early clinical exposure in endocrine physiology,” in Advances in Physiology Education.

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Physiology is the study of how molecules, cells, tissues and organs function in health and disease. Established in 1887, the American Physiological Society (APS) was the first U.S. society in the biomedical sciences field. The Society represents more than 10,500 members and publishes 15 peer-reviewed journals with a worldwide readership.