Keele University has developed a “virtual patient” to help train the pharmacists of the future.
Students in the Staffordshire-based university’s School of Pharmacy interact with the computer-generated characters to gain experience in effective communication and decision-making.
Learners talk with the “patient” via voice recognition technology or by typing questions into a standard computer interface and the “patient” responds verbally or with a range of non-verbal gestures to indicate emotions such as pain, stress or anxiety. At the end of the session the “patient” gives feedback to the trainee about their performance.
The Virtual Patient can be used to explore a number of different conditions, including dyspepsia and hypertension. When ethnicity, age or gender are relevant to the treatment of the patient, the case can be designed to demonstrate to the learner how such factors are clinically significant.
The Keele team are now working on a £50,000 project for Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, developing a new set of four avatars for their new undergraduate pharmacy programme.
They have also developed a “virtual doctor” to help with the training of pharmaceutical sales representatives. The system can be used in a classroom setting or for distance learning via the internet.
Professor Stephen Chapman, head of Keele’s School of Pharmacy, said: “Training students to carry out one-to-one interviews is very resource-intensive as you need to get people to role play the part of a patient or doctor. It is also difficult to standardise the process so that the students all get the same experience.
“Using the Virtual Patient allows us to explore the full patient consultation and to let the student learn from mistakes in a safe environment that would not be possible in real life. For example, the Patient can be programmed to be allergic to penicillin and can suffer anaphylactic shock if the student forgets to check. It really hard-wires the learning into the brain in a way that is not possible with text books alone.”
Third year Pharmacy student Rajiv Pandya added: “The Virtual Patient helps you develop clarity when communicating as it forces you to speak in a way that the patient can understand what you are saying. A great deal of thought has obviously been put into patient reactions and the amount of information that patients are willing to reveal to a pharmacist. I feel reassured that Keele has this unique facility to ensure that future pharmacists can be confident in being able to practise the best consultation and communication skills.”
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