The use of virtual patients to assess the clinical skills and reasoning of medical students: initial insights on student acceptance

Neil Gesundheit, Pauline Brutlag, Patricia Youngblood, William T Gunning, Nabil Zary, Uno Fors
Medical Teacher 2009, 31 (8): 739-42

BACKGROUND: Web-based clinical cases ("virtual patients", VPs) provide the potential for valid, cost-effective teaching and assessment of clinical skills, especially clinical reasoning skills, of medical students. However, medical students must embrace this teaching and assessment modality for it to be adopted widely.

METHOD: We examined student acceptance of a web-based VP system, Web-SP, developed for teaching and assessment purposes, in a group of 15 second-year and 12 fourth-year medical students.

RESULTS: Student acceptance of this web-based method was high, with greater acceptance in pre-clinical (second-year) compared with clinical (fourth-year) medical students. Students rated VPs as realistic and appropriately challenging; they particularly liked the ability of VPs to show physical abnormalities (such as abnormal heart and lung sounds, skin lesions, and neurological findings), a feature that is absent in standardized patients.

CONCLUSIONS: These results document high acceptance of web-based instruction and assessment by medical students. VPs of the complexity used in this study appear to be particularly well suited for learning and assessment purposes in early medical students who have not yet had significant clinical contact.

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