The use of a virtual patient case in an OSCE-based exam--a pilot study

Med Teach. 2008;30(3):e66-76. doi: 10.1080/01421590801910216.


Background: This study focuses on a skills test based clinical assessment where 118 fourth-year medical students at the four teaching hospitals of Karolinska Institutet participated in the same 12-module OSCE. The goal of one of the twelve examination modules was to assess the students' skills and ability to solve a virtual patient (VP) case (the ISP system), which included medical history taking, lab tests, physical examinations and suggestion of a preliminary diagnosis.

Aims: The primary aim of this study was to evaluate the potential of a VP as a possible tool for assessment of clinical reasoning and problem solving ability among medical students. The feeling of realism of the VP and its possible affective impact on the student's confidence were also investigated.

Method: We observed and analysed students' reactions, engagement and performance (activity log files) during their interactive sessions with the simulation. An individual human assistant was provided along with the computer simulation and the videotaped interaction student/assistant was then analysed in detail and related to the students' outcomes.

Results: The results indicate possible advantages of using ISP-like systems for assessment. The VP was for instance able to reliably differentiate between students' performances but some weaknesses were also identified, like a confounding influence on students' outcomes by the assistants used. Significant differences, affecting the results, were found between the students in their degree of affective response towards the system as well as the perceived usefulness of assistance.

Conclusion: Students need to be trained beforehand in mastering the assessment tool. Rating compliance needs to be targeted before VP-based systems like ISP can be used in exams and if such systems would be used in high-stake exams, the use of human assistants should be limited and scoring rubrics validated (and preferably automated).

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Clinical Competence / standards
  • Computer Simulation*
  • Educational Measurement*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Observation
  • Patient Simulation*
  • Pilot Projects
  • Students, Medical
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Videotape Recording