One area in medical education that has shown great promise is the concept of using virtual patients.
This allows junior doctors and medical students to practice decision-making without potentially harming real patients.
Traditionally virtual patients have been carried out on desktop PCs; however, recently there have been a number of medical apps released which allow users to practice decision-making on the go. These apps follow much the same format as the desktop software and take the user through a clinical case and offer a number of decision options which lead to different decision trees. At the end of each case, users are given a score relating to their case. This offers immediate feedback on the decisions that were made.
The University of Glasgow has recently released a microbiology virtual patients app. This free app allows users to practice decision making as if they were a new intern (or FY1 in the UK). There are a range of cases from six specialties in total. These include Neurology, Respiratory, Urinary, Bone, Dermatology, and Gastrointestinal.
Each case has been well thought out and is presented as if you are the junior doctor on call. Users are given the opportunity to do history and physical exams as well as ask additional questions.
At regular opportunities the user is offered a decision often relating to further investigation and management. The user interface is slick and the overall graphics are very pleasant to use. Each question has a certain time limit which encourages decisions to be made promptly.
After each question, feedback is given which discusses and highlights the correct answer and best method forward. At the end of each case users are given a score and the score is locked in the app. Scores less than 70% are deemed unacceptable and users are encouraged to repeat the case at a later opportunity.
One of the limitations of this app is that some of the guidelines included are specifically for the greater Glasgow region. However, this does not greatly detract from the overall usefulness of the app. One of the most irritating features is the inability to return to the main menu during the middle of a case. This is a shame given how good the user interface is the rest of the time.
The other limitation is the number of cases, which in total is 10. It did not take long to finish every case within the app and it made a great time filler during quiet moments on the ward. Hopefully, future updates will include additional cases which will further increase the utility of this application.
- Microbiology Virtual Patients is a free app
- Interactive decision-making clinical virtual patients
- Decent graphics
- Inability to return to main menu without cycling through the whole app
- Limited number of overall cases
- Use of local guidelines
Virtual patient apps are useful tools for medical education and medical students alike. Microbiology Virtual Patients, although limited by the number of cases, provides a useful opportunity for interns to practice their decision making on the wards without actually putting patients at risk.
Rating: (1 to 5 stars): 3.5/5
- User interface – 2
- Multimedia usage – 5
- Price – 5
- Real world applicability -4