Background: The use of computer-based training programs in medicine is widespread. To date, however, there has been little or no research conducted to explore how these self-delivered educational programs can be applied to the training of standardized patients (SPs). The purpose of this study was to compare a traditional SP training technique with one that was based on computer-based delivery of case materials and checklist-based scoring criteria.
Method: Ten SPs were trained to portray 1 of 5 cases. The SPs were paired by case and then randomly assigned to either an experimental (computer-based training) or control (traditional trainer-based training) group. Forty medical students completed a 5-station clinical skills assessment where they encountered both computer- and trainer-trained SPs. Portrayal fidelity and documentation accuracy was assessed via videotape review of the individual encounters.
Results: With reference to checklist scoring discrepancies, documentation accuracy was significantly greater for those SPs who were trained using the computer-based delivery method. Likewise, based on a summary measure of portrayal fidelity, the performances of traditionally trained SPs were quite realistic but, nevertheless, less dependable than those for the computer-trained group.
Conclusion: The use of computer-assisted educational programs to train SPs is effective and can lead to performance fidelity gains as well as improved accuracy with respect to the documentation of history taking and physical examination skills.