Virtual patients as novel teaching tools in psychiatry.


Effective interviewing skills are an essential core competency of psychiatric training, especially when eliciting sensitive clinical information from child and adolescent psychiatric patients. Since it is not always possible to interview patients with the full range of psychiatric disorders during training, simulations such as “standardized patients” (SPs), that is, actors hired to portray patients, are nearly universal in current medical education (1, 2), and have been used to evaluate trainees’ skills with objective structured clinical examinations (OSCE) (3). Use of computer-generated “virtual human patients” (VPs) is increasingly appealing as technology produces VPs that are consistent and realistic (4–7). A recent randomized trial found that both VPs and SPs produced equivalent improvements in diagnostic ability among nurses, physicians, psychologists, and public health workers (8), and the versatility of VPs makes them well suited to teach clinical reasoning skills (9). VPs can be programmed to reflect a wide variety of clinical symptoms and behaviors useful in teaching trainees critical thinking and diagnostic acuity (9). VPs can also be utilized to evaluate psychiatric residents’ and medical students’ clinicalmanagement strategies. Both SPs and VPs offer a supervised practice for trainees before they encounter a challenging, live patient (e.g., patients with trauma exposure, sexual assault/rape, physical attacks, and physical/sexual abuse); however, VPs, unlike SPs, are not limited by potential financial constraints to train actors (2). At present, there is little published data to guide the design and integration of VPs into psychiatric education; thus, research is needed (9). The potential benefits of VPs in medical education are the unlimited realistic simulations of patients of all ages and diverse ethnic and cultural characteristics to students, in a safe and reproducible manner (10). The objective of this pilot studywas to investigate the feasibility of interviewing a virtual adolescent patient (VP) with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and to increase trainees’ and educators’ awareness of this technology (5–7).

DOI: 10.1176/appi.ap.10080118

Cite this paper

@article{Pataki2012VirtualPA, title={Virtual patients as novel teaching tools in psychiatry.}, author={Caroly S Pataki and Michele T. Pato and Jeffrey Sugar and Albert A. Rizzo and Thomas D. Parsons and Cheryl St George and Patrick G. Kenny}, journal={Academic psychiatry : the journal of the American Association of Directors of Psychiatric Residency Training and the Association for Academic Psychiatry}, year={2012}, volume={36 5}, pages={398-400} }