Objective: Simulation technologies are used to assess and teach competencies through the provision of reproducible stimuli. They have exceptional utility in assessing responses to clinical stimuli that occur sporadically or infrequently. In this article, the authors describe the utility of emerging simulation technologies, and discuss critical issues in simulator-based skills assessment and appropriate results analysis.
Method: Based on literature search and expert consensus, the authors discuss three simulation technologies: standardized patients and the objective structured clinical examination; the integrated high fidelity mannequin; virtual clinical stations and the objective structured virtual examination.
Results: The authors explore the current state of these technologies: uses, cost, limitations, and likely future applications. For instance, tele-standardized patients may test learners' communication/management approach to challenges during tele-consultation, such as a suicidal patient several hundred miles away. Integrated mannequins may test leadership skills during psychiatric emergencies. Case-based interactive virtual clinical assessment tools may test learners' decision-making skills or self-reflection. However, these exciting tools must be implemented systematically. Specifically, educators must define the competencies of interest precisely. Appropriate data analysis will generate dependable results, ascribing the correct proportion of outcome variability to individual learner behavior. Careful analysis and utilization of results will allow justification of the costs to major stakeholders.
Conclusions: Simulation technologies offer exciting possibilities for skills evaluation and clinical practice improvement. When used creatively and appropriately, they form a useful adjunct in the armament of educators addressing the question, "Is this physician competent?"